Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fifth-Gen fighters to plug into satellite network

The Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), already planned to be loaded with top-end combat features like advanced stealth and super-cruise capability, could also be plugged, uniquely, into a network of satellites. With Moscow willing to grant India unprecedented access to military signals from Russia’s constellation of GLONASS (GLObal NAvigation Satellite System) satellites, the FGFA could access real-time details of its own and enemy positions, terrain information, and have the ability to communicate with Indian forces anywhere on the globe.

A senior Russian diplomat, speaking anonymously to Business Standard, reveals that after extended negotiations with India, Moscow has okayed the provision of military data from GLONASS, in the form of digitised signals. So far, Russia had only agreed to provide India with civilian-grade navigation signals, which permitted an accuracy of 25-30 metres. Now, the military grade signals will allow a far higher accuracy, crucial for military operations.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the New Delhi-based Russian diplomat explained, “India is the only country that Moscow is willing to supply GLONASS military data to. Russia has recently okayed an agreement which officials from both sides have been negotiating for some time. From our side, we are ready to sign, even during (Russian president Dmitry) Medvedev’s visit to India this December.”

Business Standard first reported (Sept 11: ‘India, Russia to ink gen-5 fighter pact’) that India and Russia were set to sign a Preliminary Design Contract to co-develop the FGFA during Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India this December. The FGFA programme, towards which each partner will contribute an initial $6 billion (Rs 26,600 crore), aims to develop the world’s premier fighter. The Russian and Indian air forces each plan to buy 250-300 of these aircraft.

Providing satellite navigation and communications to the FGFA would place the aircraft at a higher technological level than even the F-35 Lightning II, the futuristic fighter that America is currently developing. The F-35 uses satellite communications, but not satellite navigation.

Says the Russian diplomat, “It is next-generation features like real-time satellite navigation that will take the FGFA technologically far beyond Sukhoi’s T-50 prototype fighter, which made its first flight in January.”

Russia’s GLONASS network will provide navigational signals worldwide through a constellation of 24 satellites, 18 of which are already operational. America already has an operational satellite navigation system, called the Global Positioning System (GPS). The European Union is implementing its own Galileo system, while India is planning its own network, called Gagan.

India and Russia had earlier agreed to cooperate on the civilian aspects of GLONASS. In January 2007, during President Putin’s visit to India, Russia’s Federal Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organisation signed agreements to launch GLONASS satellites on Indian booster rockets and to jointly build new-generation satellites.

With President Medvedev’s visit a month after President Obama’s, Moscow has successfully lined up a slew of high-profile signings and events that underscore the strategic nature of the Russia-India partnership. Besides signing of the FGFA development contract and the possible GLONASS agreement, Russia is racing against time to hand over during this period an Akula-class nuclear attack submarine to the Indian Navy. INS Chakra, as the Indian Navy will call this submarine, has been provided by Russia on a 10-year lease for an estimated $900 million (Rs 400 crore).

“All this shows the depth of the Russia-India strategic relationship,” points out the Russian diplomat. “There are other countries that might be having better technology than Russia, though I cannot say for sure. But they are not willing to part with it.”

No comments: