Even as a project on the development of a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) between India and Russia remains stuck, a top Russian official said the talks are in the "second stage" and a contract document may be signed soon.
In an interview to IANS, Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation, said that while Russia has traditionally not made single-engine fighter jets, it can join hands with India in making these jets, which India has announced under its new Strategic Partnership model, if it is "invited".
India and Russia have been working on a joint project to develop the fifth generation fighter aircraft, but despite it being in the pipeline for around a decade, a final contract has not yet been signed.
Chemezov said a contract document is likely to be signed in the near future, but did not give any timeline.
"The first stage of the project is completed, now the second stage is under discussion. I think that the contract documents will be signed in the very near future," Chemezov told IANS.
"The project is very complex, but the work continues, although not so quickly," he said.
India and Russia had inked an inter-governmental pact for the FGFA project in 2007. It was to be based on the Russian Sukhoi-57 or the Sukhoi PAK FA T-50 fighter jet.
In December 2010, India had agreed to pay $295 million towards the preliminary design of the fighter, also referred to as Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF).
However, negotiations faced various hurdles in the subsequent years.
After evaluating the first PAK FA T-50 prototype, the Indian Air Force (IAF) wanted more than 40 changes to address, among other things, perceived weaknesses in the plane's engine, stealth, and weapon-carrying capability.
There were several disagreements between New Delhi and Moscow, including on work and cost share, aircraft technology, as well as the number of aircraft to be ordered.
There was also Indian concerns over the extent of transfer of technology, since the aircraft will be developed based on the Russian PAK FA T-50 jet.
A committee was later constituted under Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, which has submitted its report to the Defence Ministry, but the content of the report has not been made public.
Informed sources said the IAF felt the deal was very expensive as the cost of developing four prototype fighter jets would be around $6 billion.
However, in October 2017, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman T. Suvarna Raju backed the India-Russia FGFA programme, saying it will bring home niche technology.
Asked if Russia was interested in participating in making single-engine fighter jets in India under the Strategic Partnership model, Chemezov said Russia would participate if it is "invited".
Chemezov said that traditionally Russia has developed only twin-engine fighter jets, but India and Russia can develop a single-engine fighter together if India invited Russia.
"Russia is very strong in the production of various types of twin-engine aircraft, but at present we do not produce single-engine fighters. And our main twin-engine aircraft, both MiG and Sukhoi, are used by the IAF," he said.
"But if India wants to develop its own one-engine aircraft, and if India is interested in international cooperation to develop this aircraft, Russia and Rostec will be open to cooperation," the Rostec Corporation CEO said.
"Thus, if we are invited to participate in the joint development of a single-engine aircraft, we are ready to do this, as it was done in the past with other Russian-Indian projects. The BrahMos supersonic missile is a good example of such cooperation between the two countries," Chemezov added.
India is looking forward to replacing its fleet of Russian MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft and a process for making single-engine aircraft in the country is expected to be initiated soon under the new Strategic Partnership model.
So far, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and US plane-maker Lockheed Martin have signed an agreement to produce F-16 fighters in India, and Swedish aerospace major Saab and Indian infrastructure conglomerate Adani group have also announced a tie-up. The two are so far the main competitors in the project, for which a Request For Information (RFI) is likely to be issued soon.