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Vivek Maniyath asked: Why is it important for India to invest in a 5th generation fighter aircraft?

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  • Gp Capt (Dr.) Rajiv Kumar Narang (Retd.) replies: Aviation historians and experts differ on the criteria for fifth generation fighter aircraft. However, there is a unanimity that the fifth generation fighter provides a technological and capability edge over the fourth or four plus generation of fighters.

    The broad characteristics of fifth generation of fighters are as follows:

    • Stealth: It is a characteristic of an aircraft that reduces its radar cross section (RCS) area to delay detection by radars. This could be achieved by having an aircraft design with oblique surfaces and avoiding vertical surfaces to produce a weak radar reflection. It carries weapons internally, applies special paints to absorb radars signals and uses composites to reduce RCS to delay detection.
    • High Manoeuvrability, and Short Take Off and Landing Capability: It is achieved through thrust vectoring or using canards. The canards, however, reduce stealth characteristics.
    • Super Cruise: It is the ability of an aircraft to achieve supersonic speeds without using after burner. The super cruise increases the range due to reduced fuel consumption in non-afterburner configuration.
    • Advanced Avionics, Sensors and Communication Systems: The advanced avionics, stealthy sensors and secure communication including low-probability of intercept radar (LPIR) provide better battlefield awareness while protecting its capability to detect, identify and neutralise adversaries.

    The US F-22 and F-35 fighter aircraft, Su-57 of Russia and J-20 of China are fifth generation fighters. The fifth generation capabilities provide a fighter with higher situational awareness, survivability in robust air defence scenarios and an edge in aerial combat.  This could mean a difference between getting shot down and winning an aerial combat/making a safe exit after striking a target in dense air defence.

    It is important for India to pursue development of fifth generation Advanced Medium Fighter Aircraft (AMCA) for maintaining technological edge amid increasing capabilities of its adversaries.

    Posted on January 16, 2024

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.