T Suvarna Raju, the chief of the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, said the manufacturing facility of Sukhoi fighter jets can be utilised in building fifth-generation fighter aircraft if the government gives its consent with the proposed Indo-Russian joint venture.
Raju said the HAL will not ask the Centre for any major investment to reconfigure it to produce the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).
He said there were many similarities between the FGFA and the Sukhoi 30MKI jet and the unit was well equipped to produce the new generation stealth fighter for which India and Russia have been in negotiations for nearly a decade.
“Definitely, it can be used for the FGFA. It will need a little bit of augmentation. We will not need major investment,” Raju, the chairman and managing director of HAL, told.
The facility at Nasik is set to fall idle after it delivers the last batch of 35 aircraft out of the total order of 222 to the Indian Air Force.
In 2007, India and Russia had inked an inter-governmental pact for the FGFA project but no concrete decision has yet been taken on it.
Pitching for the FGFA project, Raju said it would be an opportunity for India to acquire high technology which has not been offered to it by any other country except Russia.
“I will not comment on the justification on expenditure on the project. But, as a country, if we are looking for fifth generation technology and if somebody has offered it to us, then definitely I would like to go for it regardless of the expenditure,” Raju said.
There is a view in the defence establishment that India should not go for the project considering the possible cost which has been roughly estimated at around USD 25 billion (around Rs 1.61 lakh crore).
The defence ministry is likely to soon take a call on a report submitted recently by a high-level committee set up by the government to examine various aspects of the project.
In December 2010, India had agreed to pay USD 295 million (Rs 1,897 crore) towards the preliminary design of the fighter, which is called the ‘Perspective Multi-role Fighter’ in India.
However, the negotiations faced various hurdles in the subsequent years.
In February last year, India and Russia revived talks on the project after a clearance from then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Raju said the Nasik plant may be converted to a maintenance facility for the Sukhoi fleet if the FGFA project does not take off. The delivery of the remaining Sukhoi jets is likely to be over by early 2020.