The Russian version of the T-50 is reportedly simpler than the Indian version, which includes Indian avionics and a wider range of compatible weapons. Five Russian T-50 prototypes are flying. The Indian model still exists only on paper.
But that hasn’t stopped the Indian air force from voicing its unhappiness with the T-50. According to transcripts of December and January meetings obtained by Business Standard, air force and defense ministry officials listed at least four “shortfalls in terms of performance and other technical features”:
The AL-41F engines currently fitted to the T-50 are unreliable. The radar is inadequate. The airframe is poorly built, with serious implications for the jet’s stealth profile. And in light of these defects, $6 billion is too much to pay up front.
According to Business Standard, Russian officials countered, saying the AL-41F engines are a temporary fit until brand-new and more powerful motors can be developed. The radar, too, is temporary—pending new sensors being developed specifically for the Indian version of the warplane.
But the allegations of sloppy construction appear to be particularly serious. Besides posing an accident risk, low-quality construction can result in gaps and mismatched angles that elevate a plane’s radar signature.
Press reports in 2013 indicated that Sukhoi was having problems with quality control in the T-50 effort. At least one of the prototypes needed patches on its wings to keep from falling apart during high-stress maneuvers.
All the same, Business Standard speculates that the Indian complaints could be somewhat politically motivated, as New Delhi is also planning to buy 126 new Rafale fighters from France for an eye-watering total price of $18 billion. Scrapping the T-50 could help India pay for the French jets.