India has unveiled an updated design for its fifth-generation fighter concept, known as the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Representations of the fighter have changed often in the last few years. But the scale 1:8 model of the concept displayed at last week’s Aero India 2013 show in Bengaluru is understood to be the final airframe and platform with which the program will proceed.

The twin-engine, stealthy, multirole fighter was first unveiled at the Aero India show in 2009, in the form of a metallic wind-tunnel model. At the show in 2011, a reshaped model saw its designers give it an F-22-like sensibility.

The final design, or at least the one the concept designers have put out this year, is strongly reminiscent of the Northrop Grumman YF-23 experimental fighter prototype that lost to the Lockheed-Martin led F-22 Raptor program in 1991.

The AMCA’s new fuselage is stretched, with symmetric trapezoidal wings, notably losing the leading edge extensions that were thought to be part of the design. The aircraft is to sport an internal weapons bay and fully indigenous stealth technologies under development, including radar-absorbent paint and composites.

That is the plan, at any rate. With the country’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program increasingly adrift ahead of a 2015 squadron service target, there has been skepticism within the Indian air force (IAF) about the pragmatism of committing resources toward an indigenous fifth-generation platform, especially when more than $10 billion will soon be committed to the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL)-Sukhoi PAK FA-based fighter program. But those concerns haven’t stood in the way of resources and funding flowing into the AMCA program and an elaborate wish list of technologies being lined up to define an aircraft that almost certainly won’t see a first flight before the next decade.

“Let’s be clear: the HAL-Sukhoi program isn’t a joint effort,” says an IAF officer with Bengaluru-based Training Command. “The airframe will be identical to the ones the Russians currently have in flight test. Our decision to go with a single-seat configuration is principally to avoid potential time overruns that will almost certainly be part of designing such a configuration. The maximum that HAL will do is insert a few systems of our choice and play lead integrator for the ‘MKI,’ if you will. Therefore, it is imperative that India look ahead and begin developing technologies and platforms like the AMCA. We cannot forever be a buyer of aircraft that are conceptualized, designed by others, and simply assembled or license-built here.”

A senior scientist at the AMCA directorate in Bengaluru says, “We have the fourth-generation Tejas on the one hand. But evolutionary technologies we are developing for the AMCA are on the cutting edge. They hope to be comparable with the best in the world. If we need a little help along the way in the interests of pragmatism, cost and time, we will study the feasibility of cooperation. But this ideally needs to be a fully Indian program. Sensitive stealth technologies will not be shared by foreign technology companies.”

A brief list of the ambitious technologies that India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) hopes to equip the AMCA with includes a panoramic active matrix cockpit, triplex fly-by-light electro-optic architecture, serpentine air intakes to suppress radar signature and an optic-fiber-based digital flight control computer.

Describing the AMCA as a “fifth-generation-plus” platform, DRDO chief Vijay Saraswat recently said, “Work on the AMCA will begin soon. This will involve identifying technologies and systems for the aircraft.”

At a seminar ahead of the Aero India show, he also made an appeal to Indian private sector firms to offer support and get involved in the program. Sources indicate that aircraft companies including Saab, Dassault and EADS have expressed a willingness to consult with the ADA on the AMCA concept to speed things along. A formal selection of possible foreign technologies could happen later this year.

Tejas photo: Indian defense ministry