‘The AMCA was designed to take care of upgrades for next 30 years’
Q: How does the AMCA compare with its competitors?
A: The AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) is not a copy of any aircraft. It was designed to match the Indian Air Force’s requirements. It is a fifth-generation fighter and one of the few in that category. It will not be right to compare it with any other aircraft. For example, the F-35 is much bigger and heavier. But, the AMCA’s technology and capabilities will be at par with any other fifth-generation fighter in the world.
Q: What lessons did you learn from the TEJAS project?
A: TEJAS is not just a program, but the development of a complete ecosystem. It has been a learning exercise because it was our first venture into 4.5-generation combat aircraft. In TEJAS, all core technologies were developed indigenously. We have realised that we need to involve all stakeholders right from the beginning. During the development of TEJAS, we were focused on proving the technologies and flying capability, and ignored the maintenance part. Flyers and ground staff are equally important. Ground support equipment like trolleys and weapon-loading platforms have to be factored in at the design phase. It cannot happen at the end. In the AMCA, even before the aircraft is ready, all these areas have been addressed and are on track.
It is designed for future upgrades as its architecture allows it to incorporate new systems easily. Its basic airframe is stealth- and future-friendly.
Designing a stealth aircraft of our own was the biggest challenge. We have learnt everything ourselves as nobody was ready to share knowledge.
Q: The AMCA is projected as a fighter for the next 30 years of war. Why?
A: It is designed for future upgrades as its architecture allows it to incorporate new systems easily. Its basic airframe is stealth- and future-friendly. Avionics, sensors and radars can be upgraded when required. Normally, the shelf life of an aircraft is 30 years, and the AMCA is designed to take care of upgrades for that period.
Q: How do you justify the AMCA when the rest of the world is looking at pilotless platforms?
A: I think pilotless alone is not the future. It will be a combination of pilot and pilotless. Human beings have to be there. You cannot fight a war with just unmanned vehicles. It requires a mix of human elements and unmanned. The AMCA can be teamed up with unmanned assets. So, there will be more unmanned assets with manned fighters controlling them, and that is the concept of the future. Man will always be there, a decision can only be taken by the pilot, not by a computer.
Q: The maintenance cost of fifth-generation fighters is high. How are you addressing this issue?
A: Stealth and fifth-generation fighters are niche technologies and unique assets. The maintenance issue has been addressed right from its design phase. Various new techniques have been adopted to take care of the maintenance aspect, and the IAF has been made aware of these as well. Moreover, to control the maintenance [cost], the fleet size of fifth-generation fighters has always been comparatively less. Since it is a niche capability and has a high cost, no country makes it in large numbers. The IAF has conceptualised its need for only seven squadrons of the AMCA (including the MK-2 version). Maintaining the stealth features makes the aircraft more expensive.
Q: What are the challenges you faced during the AMCA development?
A: Designing a stealth aircraft of our own was the biggest challenge. We have learnt everything ourselves as nobody was ready to share knowledge. The Aeronautical Development Agency and other academic institutions together developed the stealth technology. Getting stealth material was another challenge. After years of dedicated work, our team managed to overcome these challenges and, finally, we can confidently manufacture the stealth fighter jet.
Q: How do you deal with the scepticism of the services regarding platforms made in India?
A: It is a matter of trust. And, in the case of the AMCA, the user (IAF) is working with us. They know exactly how to make this platform acceptable. In TEJAS, the fighter was [similar in features to] western and Russian aircraft, because the IAF wanted it that way. Since they are involved in aircraft design, they are tailoring it for their requirement. I think the scepticism is waning.