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By Bulbul Singh

01 Jan 07. Ahead of Russian President Vladmir Putin’s visit to India, the Indian defence Minister A K Anthony is discussing India’s participation in the Russian fifth generation fighter aircraft program with senior bureaucrats and planners.

Russia has asked India to join in the development of the 5th Generation aircraft and proposals have been submitted by MiG Corporation and Sukhoi of Russia. Sources say a formal agreement is likely to be signed on India’s participation in the 5th generation project during Putin’s January 26, 2007 visit to New Delhi.

Indian Defence Minister has been briefed in a series of meetings in December by K P Singh, India’s Secretary of defence production in the Defence Ministry, Ashok Baweja, Chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), and Indian Air Force Chief Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi.

Sources say a final draft is now being prepared on reaching an agreement on designing, producing and marketing of the fifth generation fighter aircraft between Indian and Russia.

Indian Air Force teams have already been briefed by MiG and Sukhoi Holdings of Russia on the technical details of the fifth generation aircraft. The Sukhoi offer to India is PAK FA 121 which is described as a variant of Sukhoi T-50 while no details of the MiG offer are known.

India is already license producing 140 SU-30 MKI aircraft at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)facilities at Bangalore and there is a divided house in the bureaucracy on whether to go in for the Sukhoi or have another variety from the MiG stable.

An HAL official said the project is very complicated as it requires billions of dollars adding that several financial detailing will have to be done before the project takes off as it would require greater funding by India in the project.

The planned fifth generation aircraft would have stealth and supersonic flight features and be equipped with advanced radars to detect variety of missiles including cruise missiles.

Besides, the joint development of a fifty generation aircraft has a procurement angle as several western players including those from United States are vying the military aircraft market in the face of a dwindling fleet strength of the Indian Air Force. Currently the combat squadron strength of the Indian Air Force is 37 against the authorized strength of 39.5 squadrons and it is likely to fall further as several squadrons of the MiG variants are grounded in the next two to three years due to old age and obsolescence. One Indian Air Force squadron comprises of 18 combat aircraft.

An Indian Air Force official said the requirements in the five to seven years is projected at around 44 squadrons which takes into account the fifth generation aircraft jointly manufactured by India and Russia as an MoU has already been signed between India and Russia on Nov. 29th 2004 for the joint development of the fifth generation aircraft.

Meantime the Indian Air Force is on a global hunt for acquiring 126 Multirole Medium Range Combat Aircraft for which Request for Information has been sent to Dassault of France, SMT MiG of Russia for the MiG 35, Lockheed Martin of the United States for F-16, Boeing for F-18, and SAAB of Sweden for the Grippen.

Following the India-U.S. nuclear cooperation deal New Delhi will like to assess the fifth generation aircraft issue just not from a military angle but also from a bigger diplomatic angle, said sources.

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