Hello defence lovers! In this article, we are going to discuss an interesting topic. We are going to figure out is India too late to develop 4.5 generation fighters such as Tejas Mk 2 and TEDBF. In a world where the strongest airforces are moving towards 5th generation fighters. So we will try to figure out if developing a 4.5 generation fighter makes any sense?
Timeline of TEDBF and Tejas MK 2
Both the Tejas MK 2 and TEDBF are expected to go in mass production between 2028 to 2030. If we look at that timeline many countries will be mass-producing their 5th generation fighters. The PLAAF will have large numbers of J20 fighters although J 20 is not a true 5th generation fighter. The Korean KAI KFX will also be hitting mass production by that time. If we talk about the Japanese X2 Shin Shin, its production will also begin by that time.
Though we are not very far behind. India will be producing its very own indigenous AMCA fighter in mass quantities by 2035. But we are particularly focusing on the 4.5 generation fighters which India will be producing at that time.
5th Generation fighter- A costly Show Piece?
If we talk about US Airforce, it operates its 5th generation fighters in very limited numbers. They operate roughly 200 F-22 Raptor whereas it has over a thousand air superiority fighters of each type. Even for the world’s only economic superpower, operating 5th generation fighters is a costly affair.
Why is it so? Firstly the cost of each unit is very high. A single f 22 raptor costs over $300 million. An F 35 costs roughly $125 million. Purchasing the 5th generation fighters is not enough. Maintenance of these aircraft is also very expensive. Not only that, the operation cost is also huge. for example, the hourly operation cost of F 35 is $44 thousand whereas it is just $8000 for an F 16. Therefore even for the World’s only economic superpower, it is not possible to have an entire airforce of 5th generation fighters.
The US Airforce has been operating the F 22 Raptors since 2005. The American led forces have seen many hostilities in the middle east since then in which aircraft like F15, F 16, A 10 and F 18 were extensively used. But the US has never used its 5th generation fighters ever.
The most important characteristics of the 5th generation fighters, that is stealth makes them so expensive. The stealth comes with many trade offs in maneuverability, weapon carrying capacity and many other areas.
Stealth is only important for the Air superiority fighters which will dominate the enemy’s airspace and for those aircraft which will be tasked to destroy the air defence systems. For the other aircraft which will support the ground forces and perform the other roles, stealth is secondary features for them.
How 4.5 Generation Fighters Are Still Useful?
The modern 4.5 generation fighters which shares some capabilities and features with the 5th generation fighters are still vey important and useful. Some of these 4.5 generation fighters will lack only stealth which compared to the 5th generation fighters.
One thing is to be noted that when we talk about stealth, we mean the radar cross section is less than 0.01 meter square. The modern 4.5 generation fighters are getting stealthier day by day by incorporating advance features such as Radar absorbent materials, divert less supersonic inlets, composite construction and many other design enhancements. So distinguishing between a 4.5 generation fighter and a 5th generation fighter is getting more difficult.
All the major Airforce in the world will be using the 4.5 generation fighters for at least next 40 years. The 4.5 generation fighters re going to be the backbone of all the airforce unless and until the 5th generation technology becomes economically feasible.
Thus going for the development of 4.5 generation fighters like TEDBF and Tejas MK 2 absolutely makes sense. Indian Airforce is not alone who is doing that. Even USAF is procuring F 15 EX fighters to replace its older f 15s. Even the US Navy is procuring more F 18 block III instead of F 35 due to financial limitations. The fighters like Tejas, Rafale, Gripen, typhoon, TEDBF are going to remain in service at least up to 2050. Moreover developing these fighters will make an aerospace manufacturing ecosystem in India. In future, these will also be exported to friendly foreign countries. Thus developing these fighters will not only make India self-reliant but also a major weapons exporter.