AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) is one of those projects of HAL which is developing at a very rapid pace, something which is unusual of the “government office” nature of HAL. Due credit goes to Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) & Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC) who are developing the aircraft.
Before answering the question, please have a look at the timelines:
- The project started in 2010. Project definition commenced from Feb 2013 & ended on March 2014. The project was put of hold for sometime as ADA was focussing on the IOC of LCA Tejas.
- The Engineering Technology & Manufacturing Development (ETMD) phase started in 2014.
- The conceptualisation was done till 2015 when the general design was frozen after extensive wind tunnel testing.
- Project entered detailed design phase (DDP) on Feb 2019.
- The first prototype is reported to be unveiled by 2024 & the first flight is scheduled in 2025.
Since HAL gained a lot of experience from delays with LCA Tejas, the AMCA is being developed with a constant feedback from the IAF to eliminate rework & delays. The project is off-track by only few years as of today & still in good timelines.
Some of the recent developments with respect to the AMCA present in public domain are:
- DSI (Diverterless Supersonic Inlet): The air inlet ducts are in DSI configuration. DSI air intakes have a bulge near the inlet to divert the boundary layer of the air entering the engine just like in a F-35 (pic below). It is a simple design & eliminates the splitter plate which was used earlier. This reduces weight by as much as 300 kg.
- S-Configuration air intake: The air flow configuration of the air intakes are going to be serpentine configuration. This means the air will flow in an “S” configuration & the compressor blades will not be visible from the front. This reduces frontal radar cross section (RCS) & aids stealth.
Pic above: 1:1 scale model of AMCA inlets.
- The control surfaces will be controlled by “fly by optics” instead of fly by wire. It makes use of optical fiber instead of electrical wires & the signals are in the form of light instead of electricity. It is faster & immune to any kind of electromagnetic hindrance.
- This digital fly by optics system is based on the next generation digital flight control computer. It will have quadruple redundancy (4 different computing channels with independent power supply).
- It’ll have a gallium nitride based AESA radar which consumes lesser power but provides higher range & tracking ability. The present AESA radars are Gallium Arsenide based. Possibly this will be the indigenous Uttam Radar.
- The cockpit will have just one single wide touch enabled multifunctional display just like in F-35.
- The first batch of AMCA will use the General Electric F414 EPE engines capable of producing 116 kN of thrust. It’ll have supercruise capability. This is an improved version of the same engine used in the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
The second batch of AMCA will use indigenous engine built in JV with Rolls Royce.
- The maximum speed will be limited Mach 1.8. Service ceiling will be 50,000 feet & G limit will be +8/-3.5.
- The planned design empty weight will be 12,000 kg, loaded weight of 20,000 kg & the external weapon carrying carrying capability of 5,000 – 6,500 kg.
- It’ll have an IRST sensor but the positioning is not declared yet. It can be placed below the nose like in F-35 but this configuration is not very good. The best place is above the nose in front of the cockpit but it reduces the stealth characteristics.
- It’ll have a next generation network centric aircraft management system developed by a DRDO lab, Defence Electronics Application Laboratory (DEAL). It’ll have seamless data fusion, cooperative engagement capability. that means multiple aircraft will be able to operate in a perfect synergy. Missile launch aircraft can the different from the one guiding the missile at different points.
- Structure: Wing is diamond shaped trapezoidal wing, similar to F-22 Raptor & F-35 Lightening II. The tail wing is an all moving fuselage mounted stabilator like the one in Su-30MKI. The vertical stabilizer is in V configuration (like the F/A-18, F-22 or F-35) & unlike J-20 is not all moving. There will be no air brake & the control surfaces will act as air brakes.
- There will be internal weapons bay which will be able to carry air-to-air & air-to-ground weapons. The internal bays will also be able to carry fuel tanks. This reduces the RCS as well as improves the aerodynamic performance.
- The fuselage will be composite just like the LCA Tejas & will have a coating of Radar Absorbent Materials.
The first patch from the AMCA flight test team:
Vem Technologies Private Limited from Hyderabad being tasked to develop a 1:1 scale model of the AMCA for RCS testing along with a ground testing aircraft for stress and vibration tests.
It is also reported that the production of AMCA will be in a public-private partnership & one of the companies from TATA Advance Systems or L&T Defence will be the partners with HAL to produce the AMCA at a high rate of production. Quite possible that all the parts will be built by a private company & HAL will act as a lead integrator. Also we cannot rule out the possibility that the private company will take the complete ownership of production.