India’s M-MRCA Fighter Competition: Rafale Contract in the Works


Rafale is the “L-1” preferred bidder. (Jan 31/12)
“It’s the biggest fighter aircraft deal since the early 1990s,” said Boeing’s Mark Kronenberg, who runs the company’s Asia/Pacific business. India’s planned multi-billion dollar, 126+ plane jet fighter buy became a contest between Dassault, Saab, MiG, American competitors and EADS’ Eurofighter.
What began as a lightweight fighter competition to replace India’s shrinking MiG-21 interceptor fleet appears to have bifurcated into 2 categories now, and 2 expense tiers. What’s going on? In a word, lots. The participants changed, India’s view of its own needs is changing, and the nature of the order may be changing as well. With the long-delayed release of the official $10 billion RFP, the competition began at last – and like all Indian decisions, it takes a very long time. DID offers an in-depth look at the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition’s changes, the RFP, and the competitors; and also offers an updated timeline regarding competitive moves since this article was first published in March 2006:

India’s MRCA: Changes

MiG-21 Bison
MiG-21 BIS
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The original intent of India’s fighter purchase was to replace hundreds of non-upgraded MiG-21s that India will be forced to retire, with a complementary force of 126 aircraft that would fit between India’s high end Su-30MKIs and its low-end Tejas LCA lightweight fighter. While plans to develop a “fifth generation fighter” in conjunction with Russia have received a lot of press, they are uncertain at best, address a different requirement, and offer no solution to the immediate problem of shrinking squadron numbers as existing aircraft are forced into retirement.
India is a large country, with coverage needs over a wide area (see map of airbases in “Order of Battle”) and on several fronts. One of which is Pakistan, whose JF-17 joint fighter program with China has India’s attention. The IAF currently has 30-32 squadrons worth of serviceable aircraft, depending on which report one reads. This is well below their target of 39 1/2. The number of IAF squadrons still flying MiG-21s of one vintage or another has now dropped to 12, and overall squadron strength is projected to plunge to 27 during the 2012-2017 period.
Lightweight multi-role fighters that could make up for declining aircraft numbers with broader and better capabilities would appear to fit that need, and India’s initial shortlist followed that template. The Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 were already in service with India in this role, and theJAS-39 Gripen offered a 4th generation aircraft whose costs and profile place it firmly in the lightweight fighter category. These aircraft served as a hedge against the potential failure of the Tejas lightweight Combat Aircraft project, and also offered a more immediate solution to plussing up numbers as existing MiG-21s and MiG-23s/MiG-27s were forced into retirement.
Since those early days, sharply improved relations with the USA have introduced a pair of American planes into the competition, and India’s view of its own needs is changing. Official sources told Jane’s in February 2006 that RFPs would be issued to France’s Dassault (Mirage 2000-5 and Rafale), BAE/Saab (JAS-39 Gripen), EADS/BAE (Eurofighter Typhoon), The American firms Lockheed (F-16 Block 70) and Boeing (F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet), and Russia’s Rosonboronexport (MiG-29OVT with thrust vectoring, aka. MiG-35).
That proved to be the case, creating a 2-tiered competition that includes both lightweight and medium fighters. This trend got a sharp boost in March 2006, when the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported a surprise pullout of the Mirage 2000, even though India already flies 40 Mirage 2000Ds, and its senior officials have touted standardization as a plus factor. Its place would be taken by the heavier, more advanced, and more expensive Rafale.
India’s changing requirements have also created delays to an already-slow process. For instance, both Jane’s Defence Weekly and Defense Industry Daily have covered India’s wish to ‘significantly’ augment their strike capability and range to deal with out-of-area contingencies. That delayed the MRCA RFP, until India’s view of its own needs solidified. Another contributor to these delays has been the need to refine and clarify the new industrial offset rules introduced in 2005, amidst lobbying by American defense firms.

MMRCA: The RFP, Please…

MiG-29 India top
IAF MiG-29, top view
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India’s defense procurement process is definitely a game for the patient, and this competition has been no exception. The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) RFP caps a process that began in 2001, when the IAF sent out its request for information (RFI) for 126 jets. After delays lasting almost 2 years beyond the planned December 2005 issue date, India’s Ministry of Defence finally announced a formal Request for Proposal on Aug 28/07.
The RFP announcement estimated the program at 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), at a cost of Rs. 42,000 crores (about $10.24 billion as of the RFP date, or about $81.3 million per fighter). The 211-page document includes clauses for initial purchase, transfer of technology, licensed production, and life-time maintenance support for the aircraft. Under the terms of purchase, the first 18 aircraft will come in a ‘fly away’ condition, while the remaining 108 will be manufactured under Transfer of Technology. Some reports add an option for an additional 63-64 aircraft on the same terms, bringing the potential total to 190 aircraft.
Selection involves an exhaustive evaluation process as detailed in the Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) 2006. The vendors had 6 months to submit their proposals. First, submitted proposals will be technically evaluated by a professional team to check for compliance with IAF’s operational requirements and other RFP conditions. Then extensive field trials will evaluate aircraft performance. Finally, the short listed vendors’ commercial proposals are examined and compared. The defence ministry’s Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) would then hold discussions with the vendors before identifying their preferred manufacturer. Their report goes to the defence minister, who must forward it to the finance minister. After the file returns to the defence ministry, it goes for final approval to the cabinet committee on security (CCS).
This is not a speedy process. The selection process alone is likely to take at least 2 1/2 years, to be followed by lengthy price negotiations, and probably including delays along the way. Most observers believe that delivery of any aircraft is unlikely before 2013.
The vendor who finally wins will be required to undertake 50% offset obligations in India. That’s a boost from the usual 30%, which is required for Indian defense purchases over $70 million. The additional 20% was added because India is looking for a large boost to its aerospace and defense electronics industries, and understands that the size of their purchase gives them additional leverage. The Indian MoD’s RFP release adds that “Foreign vendors would be provided great flexibility in effecting tie up with Indian partners for this purpose.” It also says that:
“The aircraft are likely to be in service for over 40 years. Great care has been taken to ensure that only determinable factors, which do not lend themselves to any subjectivity, are included in the commercial selection model. The selection would be transparent and fair….
It may be recalled that the Defence Minister Shri A K Antony while chairing the Defence Acquisition Council Meeting on June 29, 2007 had outlined three guiding principles for this procurement scheme. First, the operational requirements of IAF should be fully met. Second, the selection process should be competitive, fair and transparent, so that best value for money is realized. Lastly, Indian defence industries should get an opportunity to grow to global scales.”
Once again, speed is not a key criterion. Part of the reason for that is India’s past history of procedural problems. American competitions are increasingly finding themselves paralyzed by quasi-legal challenges of evaluation methods, and even of their chosen criteria. Witness the hold-ups created for the CSAR-X helicopter competition, Joint Cargo Aircraft, ITES-2 I.T. contract, etc. Indian competitions have featured these sorts of post-contract obstacles even more consistently, with long bureaucratic delays and corruption charges thrown into the mix for good measure.
Time will tell if the objectives of the MoD’s RFP are met, or if a process of waiting almost 6 years for an RFP, and then years more for a winner, is only the beginning of the process.
Even as India’s existing fighter fleet continues to wear out, and China and Pakistan’s fleets continue to grow.

The Competitors: Analysis

AN-APG-79 Ops Concept
AESA usage concept
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Recent changes in India’s needs and the contest participants are changing the relative rankings of the contenders. Geopolitical considerations are also intruding, as most of these choices have the potential to improve relations with an important potential ally. Standardization arguments will also carry weight. As of January 2006, India’s Air Force operated 26 different aircraft types, and the IAF is not eager to add to its support headaches.
The listed competitors group into two very different categories with their own strengths and weaknesses: lightweight fighters in the $25-50 million flyaway cost range (F-16 Falcon, JAS-39 Gripen); and larger dual-engine mid-range fighters in the $65-120 million flyaway range (Eurofighter, F/A-18 Super Hornet, Rafale). Russia’s MiG-35 sat somewhere in the middle, as a bulked-up next-generation version of a twin-engine MiG-29 design that was generally seen as an F-16 competitor.
All MMRCA contenders to date appear to be proposing Active Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radars in their fighters. They offer a number of benefits over conventional mechanically-scanned radars, including durability, maintenance, the ability to track both air and ground targets via continuous scans instead of rapid switching, and potential electronic attack uses. A narrower field of view with less sidelobe “leakage” is both an asset and a drawback, depending on the situation.


Rafale with MICA Storm Shadow-Scalp
Rafale w. Scalp
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The shortlisted fighters have a long shared history. Dassault’s Rafale was developed when France parted ways with its erstwhile European partners, who went on to develop the Eurofighter. Both types have been fielded without full capabilities, and both have had trouble landing export orders. The EADS/ BAE/ Finmeccanica consortium is looking for Eurofighter’s 2nd major export sale, after Saudi Arabia. Dassault is still looking for its 1st export win.
Rafale (Dassault, France). Initial reports indicated that the Rafale did not meet India’s technical evaluation criteria, because critical information was not included. Dassault persisted, and their fighter is now back in the race.
The Rafale offers good aerodynamic performance, has exceptional ordnance capacity for its size, and can extend its range further via conformal fuel tanks. Dassault claims Mach 1+ “supercruise” capability without afterburners, but observers are skeptical, and it has been challenging to demonstrate this with the Snecma R88-2 engine. The Rafale also offers some equipment, maintenance and spares commonalities with existing Mirage 2000 fleet, which will increase as India’s Mirage 2000s are modernized with new electronics and weapons. France’s reliability as a weapons supplier, good history of product support, and long-standing relations with India, offer additional plusses. The Rafale-M’s demonstrated carrier capability might be attractive, too, but that requires catapult launch capabilities, which India’s Vikramaditya carrier will not possess.
India’s slow procurement system has had the side-effect of mitigating most of the Rafale’s weaknesses. Rafales have now operated over Libya with the Damocles surveillance and advanced targeting pod, as well as the new Reco NG reconnaissance pod. Thales’ RBE2-AA AESA radar has been installed, and is now much closer to fielding. While it will still require additional funds and work to integrate many non-French weapons if one wishes to use them on the Rafale, India’s long-delayed contract to upgrade its Mirage 2000s makes that less urgent, by widening the aircraft base for the Rafale’s French armaments.
The Rafale’s failure to win any export competitions was also an issue – one that reaches beyond mere perception of “also-ran” status. As Singapore’s choice has shown, export failures are already forcing cuts in future Rafale procurement, in order to pay for modernization. That dynamic is likely to get worse over the next 30 years, unless a big buyer like India steps up. Fortunately for Dassault, the Rafale was picked as India’s “L1” package. That big buyer could be just around the corner, and India’s pick could also help the plane in Brazil.
AIR SU-30MKI Eurofighter Tornado-F3
Indra Dhanush 2007:
SU-30MKI, Typhoon, F3
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Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS/BAE, Europe & Britain). A fourth generation aircraft currently optimized for the air-air role through its performance characteristics, and what is by all accounts an excellent pilot interface. Some observers believe that aside from the F-22A Raptor, the Eurofighter is the next-best in-service air superiority aircraft world-wide, though the 2007 Indra Dhanush exercise that matched it up against India’s SU-30MKI makes a case for Sukhoi’s fighter.
India’s delay has given the fighter more time to mature, and upgrades and new weapon options are giving current production versions full multi-role capabilities. Typhoon fighters reportedly have “supercruise” capability, though it probably isn’t sustainable once the fighter is armed. Eurofighter GmbH even unveiled a proposed naval variant at Aero India 2011, which it claims could launch without catapults from the “ski-jump” decks on India’s future carriers.
With respect to industrial offsets, BAE already has an order from India for 123 BAE Hawk trainers, 69 of which are being built in India. Those Hawk orders ran into trouble, but the troubles were resolved, and India upped the order from 66 to 123. That gives BAE solid industrial experience and credentials, and given EADS’ key role in the Eurofighter consortium, Airbus might also be able to contribute.
Weaknesses include the aircraft’s $100+ million price tag, which may stretch India’s budget to the breaking point; the fact it’s a new aircraft type for the IAF so the entire support infrastructure would have to be developed; its lack of naval capability; the developmental status of its CAESAR (Captor AESA Radar) technology; and the non-existent geopolitical benefits of selecting it. Given the Eurofighter’s performance and costs, simply buying more SU-30MKIs would appear to make far more sense. India’s shortlist process ignored cost, however, so Eurofighter made the short list.

Not Shortlisted

F-18E Super Hornet Parked
F/A-18E, Parked
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F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet (Boeing, USA). Highly upgraded version of the F/A-18 A-D Hornet, enlarged and given new engines and avionics. Commonality between the Hornet and Super Hornet is only about 25%. Strengths include its powerful AN/APG-79 AESA radar, which has drawn significant interest from India. This radar could allow Super Hornets to play a unique role in India’s fighter fleet as versatile “quarterbacks” (or better yet, “cricket captains”) due to their radar’s performance and information sharing abilities. Other advantages include carrier capability, a very wide range of integrated weapons, a design that is proven in service and in combat, F414 engines that may also serve as the base for LCA Tejas Mk2; and complete assurance in its future upgrade spiral, given the US Navy’s commitment to it.
The existence of a dedicated electronic warfare variant as of 2009 in the EA-18G Growleroffers a unique selling point, as the growth of sophisticated air defense systems will place a growing premium on this unique capability.
Last but certainly not least, this choice offers an opportunity to create an early “win” which would strengthen India’s new alliance with the USA and prove its new status in the world. After all, when clearance for the aircraft’s export to India was given, no other nation had even been offered the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. Since then, close American ally Australia has bought 24 F/A-18F Block IIs, and even taken steps to modify 12 aircraft toward EA-18G Growler status, giving the platform an additional selling point in the “allied commonality” department. Defense industrial requirements are helped by Boeing’s network of Indian investments and relationships, stemming from its P-8i sea control aircraft sale and commercial push into India.
Weaknesses of the Super Hornet platform included deep distrust of America’s reliability as an arms supplier, technology transfer concerns, and the aircraft’s expense. Given the costs to other customers so far, it seems unlikely that Boeing can deliver 126 fully-equipped F/A-18 E/F Block II aircraft for just $10.2 billion, let alone aircraft plus lifetime support. Since it’s a new aircraft type for the IAF, that entire support infrastructure would have to be developed from the ground up. Finally, the Super Hornet offers poorer aerodynamic performance than the Eurofighter or Rafale, due to inherent airframe limitations. Carnegie Endowment’s Andrew Tellis says that last disadvantage was the killer.
F-16F Block 60 UAE
F-16F “Desert Falcon”
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F-16 Fighting Falcon (Lockheed Martin, USA). Lockheed’s “Block 70” offering would have been an modified version of the F-16E Block 60 “Desert Falcon” currently serving with the UAE. Strengths include the widest multi-role capability among lightweight fighters; its proven AN/APG-80 AESA radar; the addition of integrated IRST (Infra Red Search & Track) capability; the widest choice of proven avionics and weapon systems; a long record of proven service so all issues are known; and widespread compatibility with potential allies in Asia and the Middle East who also fly F-16s. The combination of an AESA radar on a less expensive platform is also good news for cruise missile defense efforts, if that’s considered a priority.
Even so, the Indian Air Force never seemed very interested in the F-16. Weaknesses include the fact that Pakistan also flies F-16s; the fact it’s a new aircraft type, so the entire support infrastructure would have to be developed; Lockheed Martin’s difficulty in complying with industrial offset provisions, given their lack of penetration in India. The MMRCA RFP’s delays may have helped Lockheed, by allowing them ample time to find arrangements with Indian firms. There are also reports that the US government was pushing this option, because of the regional reassurance factor. While the common underlying aircraft type would probably take some of the edge off of the deal from Pakistan’s point of view, and an F-16 E/F Block 60+ would have a number of important advantages over even Pakistan’s new F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft, its conformal fuel tanks would give it poorer turn performance and handling. This disadvantage, and perceptions that the platform had limited capacity for further upgrades, were reportedly fatal in India’s trials.
MiG-29OVT MAKS 2005
MiG-29OVT, MAKS 2005
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MiG-29OVT, became the MiG-35 (Rosonboronexport, Russia). This modified MiG-29 includes improved radar and avionics that give it multi-role capability, extra fuel in a new aircraft “spine,” and thrust-vectoring engines a la India’s SU-30MKIs. While the MiG-29 has traditionally been considered a lightweight fighter, the combined effect of these changes push the MiG-29 toward the mid range.
Its strengths included compatibility with India’s existing and future MiG-29 fleet, and its ability to carry advanced Russian missiles already in service: the revolutionary AA-11/R-73 Archerand longer range AA-12/R-77 “AMRAAMski.” The presence of MiG-29-related manufacturing and maintenance, including a new plant for license-building RD-33 Series III engines in India, would make compliance with industrial offset requirements easier.
The MiG-29’s biggest weaknesses were short range, engines that produce telltale smoke (very bad in air combat) and lack of true multi-role capability; the MiG-35 largely fixes these issues, and may even add an AESA radar of its own if Phazotron-NIIR can have its new Zhuk-AE ready in time. Technology sharing and co-production are also considered to be strengths; as one Indian officer put it: “Russians have their problems of delayed projects and unreliable spare supply but they give access to everything, unlike the Americans.” He’s referring to the IAF’s not-so-great experience with India’s existing MiG-29s, which have had maintenance problems in addition to their other deficits.
Remaining weaknesses in the MiG-35 bid include the serious difficulties India has had with Russian firms over the refit of its new carrier, order for more Mi-17 helicopters, and order for 3 more Krivak-III class frigates. All have featured failure to deliver, and post-contract price renegotiation demands that have raised prices up to 200%. Reports that MiG-35 delivery cannot start before 2014 at the earliest add a further disadvantage, especially compared to competitors with active production lines and rapid delivery capability.
There has also been legitimate speculation about the future viability of the MiG-29 family platform, which has been eclipsed by the SU-30 family. Despite Yemen’s interest in buying more MiGs, Algeria’s canceled $1.8 billion order adds further risk to a platform whose current order book revolves around refurbishment programs. India has ordered a handful of MiG-29K variants as its future carrier aircraft. Nevertheless, doubling down to add the MiG-35 would make India the first customer for both variants – neither of which has other sale opportunities on the near horizon. That could be spun as a positive industrial opportunity, but it was also a cost and risk issue.
JAS-39 Gripens in South Africa
JAS-39s in South Africa
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JAS-39 Gripen (Saab, Sweden). The Gripen is a true 4th+ generation lightweight fighter and significantly more capable than category competitors like the F-16 and Mirage 2000, though the MiG-35 may give it a run for the money. Gripen NG begins to address the aircraft’s range limitations, and would include an AESA radar among its other enhancements. Other strengths include a wide choice of integrated weapons and pods; reasonable purchase cost; the fact that it has been designed for exceptional cost of ownership; and the ability operate from roads instead of runways if necessary. With respect to industrial offsets, Saab has made a strong offer, backed by excellent record in countries like South Africa, Hungary, The Czech Republic et. al.
As an interesting side note, the JAS-39NG’s use of GE’s F414G engine would have created future commonality with India’s own Tejas Mk2, which will also be powered by the F414 after DRDO’s Kaveri engine failures put the entire project in jeopardy.
The JAS-39’s drawbacks include its short range; the fact it’s a new aircraft type for the IAF; its AESA radar’s developmental status; perceived similarity (whether valid or not) to the Tejas fighter’s potential performance; and a low volume of international orders to date that raises questions about the platform’s ability to modernize over the next 30-40 years.
While ordering a Swedish fighter carries no geopolitical benefits, the platform did have a pair of wild cards. One was South Africa’s adoption, and Brazil’s potential adoption, of the Gripen. These 3 countries are beginning to collaborate more closely in defense matters, and a common fighter platform could have offered intriguing military and industrial benefits. The other wild card was less positive. The long-running Bofors scandal is reported to have tainted any future buys from Sweden, casting an irrational and unjustified, but still present, shadow over the Gripen’s chances.

Cast a Long Shadow: Tejas, Mirage 2000, F-35

LCA Tejas Underside
Tejas LCA
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Tejas LCA (HAL et. al., India). A lightweight, indigenously-developed fighter aircraft expected to enter service around 2010. Currently in testing using GE’s F404 engine, while India’s accompanying Kaveri jet engine project stalled and was scrapped in favor of a potential new engine partnership. The Tejas is not an M-MRCA competitor – but confidence in its development plans, its ability to stay under $25 million per plane, the potential for a naval variant, etc. has had a behind-the-curtains influence on every MRCA decision.
Mirage 2000Hs India Takeoff
IAF Mirage 2000TH takeoff
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Mirage 2000-5/9 (Dassault). Before M-MRCA became a formal competition, Dassault reportedly offered to move the global Mirage 2000 production line to India. When India refused the offer and launched its competition, Dassault looked at how long an Indian decision would take, and their order book, and decided that the Mirage 2000 line couldn’t be kept open that long. The aircraft was withdrawn before the official RFP was released, and the larger and more expensive Rafale was offered instead.
A Mirage 2000 entry would have had a number of strengths. One is compatibility with Mirage 2000s already in service, which performed very well in the 1999 Kargil skirmishes. An infrastructure already exists for industrial offsets, and its low end price could be raised, along with its capabilities, by adding equipment developed in the Rafale program. India has already been negotiating with France along those lines, for upgrades to its existing fleet.
Industry analyst Richard Aboulafia points out that the history of global fighter purchases shows strong clustering at the lower-price end of the market; shutting down Mirage 2000 production will shut Dassault out of that niche, leaving it to new entries like India’s own Tejas LCA.
Indeed, the Mirage 2000’s potential performance similarity to the Tejas LCA project was both its weakness and its strength in India. One the one hand, Mirage 2000s offered a good insurance policy if confidence in the Tejas fell. On the other hand, it would not be seen as adding enough to the force mix, if confidence in the Tejas program remained high. The Tejas program’s qualified success over the past few years would probably have doomed the Mirage 2000. Instead, India will upgrade its existing 51-plane Mirage fleet, in a separate $2.3+ billion deal.
F-35B Cutaway
F-35B JSF Cutaway
by John Batchelor
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F-35 Joint Stike Fighter (Lockheed-led, multinational). In February 2006, India’s Chief Air Marshal recently specifically noted that the JSF was not in their plans for this buy, a likelihood that DID’s analysis had noted earlier due to probable lack of availability before 2015. The August 2007 MRCA RFP confirmed this.
If it were operational today, the F-35B STOVL variant would probably be by far the best fit for India’s requirements. The planes would be carrier-capable from all of India’s naval air platforms, including smaller carriers the size of INS Viraat (ex-Hermes) or LHD amphibious assault ships, and could use roads and short field runways on land for maximum operational flexibility. F-35 JSFs would sport ultra-advanced systems that include the AN/APG-81 AESA radar, and incredibly advanced sensor systems and electronics that would make it India’s most capable reconnaissance asset, and even a potential electronic warfare aircraft. Other strengths would include greater stealth than any other competitor, which is critical for both air-air dogfights and strikes on defended targets. The Super Hornet may be able to fill the role of an aerial cricket captain, but the JSF is more like Sachin Tendulkar.
India has been invited to F-35 events. With potential US order numbers dropping, India might even be accepted into the program if they pushed for it. The F-35’s killer weakness was that it could not deliver the fighters in India’s time frame, even as India’s pursuit of its FGFA program with Russia offers it a semi-indigenous stealth alternative. Lockheed Martin and the US government have been pushing the F-35 ever since the F-16 and F-18 were eliminated, but even if India changed its mind, the F-35’s advanced systems, established industrial partnership structure and program procurement policies could make it nearly impossible to meet India’s technology transfer and industrial offset rules.

MMRCA: Updates and Developments

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Jan 31/12: Rafale is L1. The rumors turn out to be true, even after the complex life-cycle cost and industrial calculations. Some reports place its cost as $5 million lower per plane. Next steps include the negotiation of a contract, in parallel with parliamentary approval and budgeting.
Until a contract is actually signed, however, India’s procurement history reminds us that even a “close” deal is just 1 step above a vague intention. The contract may take a while. Even the French government sees a deal as an 80% probability within 6-9 months. The budgeting is likely to be even trickier. The IAF’s exclusion of cost considerations in picking its finalists means that the only question now is: how far over the stated budget will a full Rafale buy go? Some reports place the deal’s cost at around $15 billion, which, depending on estimates, is an increase of between 33-50%.
Unless the number of planes in the contract is reduced accordingly, or the Euro plunges very sharply during negotiations, those extra monies have to be committed. India’s armed forces and politicians would have to either draw on growth in the overall defense budget, or sideline other defense programs to pay for M-MRCA. If economic downturns or squeezed defense budgets make those outlays a big enough issue, early enough in the process, it could have the effect of re-opening the competition. British PM David Cameron has expressed an intent to change India’s mind, and both Saab and Boeing are still positioned within India, in order to be ready for a renewed opportunity. An Indian Express report even adds that:
”...government sources told Reuters about the $15 billion deal that France’s Rafale jet was the likely winner, adding that the defence ministry was now considering buying another 80 or so jets and could invite bidders excluded from the current process to take part.”
See: Dassault | President Sarkozy [in French] | Economic Times of India, see also theirtimeline | Indian Express | India Today | Rediff (thanks for using our descriptions, sans attribution) | Times of India || Aviation Week | BBC | UK’s The Guardian | Reuters report andexpert roundup.
Eurofighter CV
Navalized Typhoon
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Nov 4/11: Final bids opened. India opens the final bids, which are reportedly within the range of $80-110 million per aircraft. At $80 million each, 126 fighters may come in just under budget. At $110 million each, the cost rises well over budget to $13 billion. Indian officials have said that they are prepared to raise their budget if needed. The realities of Indian procurement will create difficulties, however, unless the move has very strong and high level political support.
Indian media report that the Dassault’s base bid was slightly lower, but the final “L-1” bid costing will also include life-cycle costs over 6,000 flight hours, costs of technology transfer, and other factors. It will take a few weeks to even arrive at a verifiable cost model to determine each bidder’s L-1, and begin establish which is really the lowest price. Some reports suggest that an answer could be forthcoming by the end of the year, but based on past performance, early 2012 is a more realistic expectation.
Meanwhile, the USA and Lockheed Martin are still pushing the F-35 from outside the MMRCA process, and Sweden’s Saab waits with its capable and less-expensive JAS-39IN Gripen. If the finalists’ cost figures create a crisis, they are prepared. Economic Times of India | The Hindu |Indian Express | Live Mint | Times of India | Zee News || India’s Business Standard op-ed re: F-35.
Oct 9/11: Despite reports that India would announce a winner on Oct 7/11, Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne says that all India is doing is approving the finalists’ industrial offset offers, and giving each firm the chance to make its final bid.
Final decisions will apparently be made in mid-November 2011, according to a final cost based on life-cycle cost, purchase cost, and technology transfer value for each competitor. DNA |domain-b | India’s Financial Express | Indian Express | Times of India || Russia’s RIA Novosti.
July 11/11: Boeing and Lockheed Martin representatives attend a government-to-government debriefing between Indian and US officials. They later pronounce themselves satisfied by the explanations received. Flight International.
June 21/11: Saab says it hasn’t given up on a sale to India. CEO Haakan Buskhe:
“We are monitoring the situation, and we have not packed up our things and left…. We have an extremely good aircraft and we have not given up.”
That may not be a bad idea. Barring an extremely good deal, it is difficult to see how India can afford 126 Rafales or Eurofighters for the price they want to pay. If negotiations with the shortlisted firms fail, identified deficiencies with the F-16 and F/A-18, and negative experiences with the MiG-29, would leave the JAS-39NG in good position.
June 3/11: CEIP post-mortem. Ashley Tellis of the liberal-realist Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose “Dogfight” report took an in-depth look at the competition before the shortlist was released, concludes that key technical weaknesses were the reason that the American fighters lost. That conclusion is offered despite his own earlier recommendation that India pick an American aircraft, and follows a 3-week trip to India that included meetings with top Indian government, military and industry officials. His overall conclusion:
”...the deeper problem with the current two-step approach is… that it potentially permits a costly misallocation of defence resources that could over time subvert India’s larger national security. Simply put, a procurement process that does not include shadow prices in the first step of its evaluation is fundamentally flawed…. There is no such thing as ‘best’ technology in the abstract, especially where defence procurement is concerned. The pre-eminence of any war-fighting technology in the real world can be judged only against the constraints of price – and, particularly in regards to India, against additional variables of consequence… what economists call, ‘constrained maximization.’
....The current Indian procedure of attempting to first select technology without reference to any other constraints leads inexorably, using an infamous American example, to purchasing a USD640 airplane toilet seat. By pristine technical standards alone, it is certain that the more expensive toilet seat outperforms its USD64 counterpart under the widest range of conditions, but the critical question is whether the differential in marginal price is worth the commensurate difference in performance.”
According to Tellis’ sources in the IAF, India’s priorities revolved around dogfighting abilities and aerodynamic performance. That killed the F-16IN, whose conformal fuel tanks enable longer-range strike, but slow its turn rate and impair handling performance. The F-16 also raised concerns regarding its growth potential, and assurance against obsolescence within 15 years. The same aerodynamic focus reportedly killed the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, whose acceleration issues are known, and whose maneuverability would never be competitive with the Rafale, Eurofighter, Gripen, or MiG-35. One odd wrinkle is that the IAF accepted the Dassault & Eurofighter’s promises of AESA radars, which remains in development, but turned down similar promises from Boeing re: a 20% thrust boost from the Super Hornet’s developmental F414 EPE engine. CEIP release, incl. full FORCE magazine article [PDF] | Flight International.
April 28/11: One day after American fighters are not included in India’s M-MRCA competition shortlist, American ambassador Timothy Roemer resigns his post. India’s Business Standard |domain-B | Los Angeles Times | Times of India | Wall Street Journal’s India RealTime.
April 27/11: Shortlist – Rafale vs. Eurofighter. With existing bids set to expire on April 28/11, India’s MoD reportedly sent letters to Eurofighter GmbH and Dassault, extending the validity of their bids. The net effect of this is that bids from the other 4 contenders will expire on the 28th, removing Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Block 70, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F, Russia’s MiG-35, and Saab’s JAS-39NG from the competition.
The elimination of both American competitors is something of a surprise. The F-16 was widely seen as having little chance, but the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet was another matter. Absent any statement or confirmation from India, analysts are left guessing as to the reasons for India’s choice. A US defense industry association’s magazine wonders if US military technology export restrictions played a role. Others are asking questions about the strength of the US-India relationship under Obama. Carnegie Endowment scholar Ashley Tellis, who has covered the competition via an in-depth report, said that:
“As best I can tell, the downselect was made entirely on the basis of the technical evaluations – the cost of the aircraft or the strategic considerations did not enter into the picture.”
If so, it is true that the Eurofighter and Rafale offer better aerodynamic performance than either American offering. Still, this is India, and no deal has been signed yet. Remaining steps include fresh commercial bids that will remain valid for the next 2 years, finalized industrial offset proposals, and discussions with a cost negotiation committee for the winning company. Despite hopes of a deal by March 2012, September 2012 is seen by some as a more likely time frame for a contract. Eurofighter GmbH | Saab | IBN Live (incl. video) | IBN Live re: procedure (incl. video) | India’s Business Standard | India’s Economic Times | The Hindu | Livemint |StratPost | Zee News || Agence France Presse | Aviation Week | NDIA’s National Defense magazine re: ITAR | Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sky Talk. | Russia’s RIA Novosti.
April 5/11: CNN-IBN has an interesting quote with respecdt to the M-MRCA competition:
“Air Marshal PK Barbora, Ex Vice Chief of Air Staff said, “The Air Force is not looking at price. That’s not our area of concern. What we want is QRs are focussed on technical aspects, latest technology.”
That’s an… interesting attitude, since price affects whether or not India can actually field the number of planes the IAF says it needs.
April 2/11: Another government deadline blown. For the second time in row, the Indian government is looking to extend the M-MRCA competition and lock in bid prices. At present, the current set of bids will expire on April 30/11, and some estimates place the cost of the extention at up to $1 billion.
The more significant worry is that this deal will become like many other Indian deals, and wind up being completely un-executable as endless allegations and investigations prevent any buy whatsoever. That sounds difficult to believe for a critical military asset like fighters, but this is exactly what has happened to India’s equally important artillery forces. StratPost Magazineexplains the industrial angle | India’s Financial Express | Kolkata Telegraph.
March 23/11: Shoot the messenger? Dassault Aviation country manager P.V. Rao reports IAF Wing Commander A.K. Thakur to the Defence Ministry for demanding an INR 20,000 bribe in exchange for a favourable spot at Aero India 2011. In response, he’s barred from any dealings with the IAF, until his exact role is investigated. The Times of India claims that:
“The air force is irked by the fact that Rao kept it in the dark about its officer asking for bribe and instead got a senior IAS officer to expose the corruption. A senior officer claimed Rao deliberately didn’t follow known procedures, which was to inform IAF senior officers. It’s also possible that IAF establishment didn’t inspire Rao’s confidence.”
An IAF Court of Inquiry has been initiated in Bangalore under a Group Captain, and its official job is to try to establish who esle might have been involved, if any other companies were targeted, and what they did about it. IBN | Times of India.
March 19/11: An Agence France Presse report says that the IAF could issue its shortlist as soon as April 2011:
“Boeing, which is offering its F/A-18IN Super Hornet, expects the delay-plagued project to take a decisive step forward as soon as next month, when a shortlist of contenders could be drawn up. “Indian military officials have been quoted recently saying they want to make an initial downselect decision possibly as soon as next month,” said Boeing spokeswoman Mary Ann Brett.”
Note the duelling statements between the IAF and MoD on this very issue, q.v. Feb 10/11 entry.
March 2/11: A British NAO report is very critical of the UK MoD’s management of the Eurofighter Typhoon program, including delivered capabilities, support arrangements, and readiness. The report could complicate the aircraft’s chances in India. See also The Register
Feb 21/11: Navalized Eurofighter? Aero India 2011 sees Eurofighter and BAE unveil an interesting wrinkle: an initial design for a navalized Eurofighter than can operate from aircraft carriers, based on an internally-funded set of studies and simulations. In a direct nod to potential Indian sales, they tout the plane as being able to take off from “ski jump” carriers without catapults – a design that describes all of India’s current and planned carriers, as well as the initial design for Britain’s own Queen Elizabeth Class.
Eurofighter GmbH descirbes the goal as 95% commonality with land-based aircraft, and required changes as “limited… include a new, stronger landing gear, a modified arrestor hook and localised strengthening on some fuselage sections near the landing gear, as well as updates the EJ200 engines,” which could include thrust-vectoring in flight.
India is currently planning to use MiG-29Ks as its naval fighters, but it’s currently the type’s only customer, and participation in a naval option could make Typhoon more attractive to India. Britain is planning to use the F-35C from its future carrier, but further cost increases or delays for the multinational program could open an opportunity for a jet type that the RAF already flies. At present, however, the UK has firmly rejected the naval Eurofighter option. Eurofighter GmbHIndia Defence.
Feb 18/11: HAL a hindrance? WikiLeaks cables reveal critical assessments of HAL’s capabilities by US ambassador Tim Roemer, following a February 2010 visit to one of their facilities.
“The potential for HAL to successfully partner with US firms on a truly advanced aircraft remains untested and suspect…. [they are] two to three decades behind the United States and other western nations [and given the facility’s lack of automation and safety provisions, US firms would have to take care to] understand the management and technological experience [limitations] of Indian firms”.
That assessment is widely held beyond the US embassy, but the experience of other cooperative programs, from SU-30 fighters, to Hawk trainers, to Scorpene submarines, shows that Indian governments and their state-owned firms will almost never admit local shortcomings. Planning for those shortcomings, and for public responses to delivery failures, is likely to be one of the key challenges facing foreign M-MRCA partners. Defence Management.
Feb 10/11: Aviation Week reports mixed signals about M-MRCA, ”...with Defense Minister A.K. Antony indicating the final choice will be pushed into 2012, but the country’s top air force official pointing to a selection this October.”
Some saw it as the military’s way of keeping the pressure on India’s bureaucratic political process. Others jusrt pointed out that the industrial review and last phase of the selection hasn’t even beguun yet, and will be co,mplicated by a January 2011 amendment that lets commercial aviation and homeland security work count as M-MRCA industrial offsets. That lateness, and the Indian government’s generally slow pace, make a 2011 selection unlikely.
Feb 8-9/11: EADS Cassidian formally opens a new Engineering Centre in Bengaluru, India, with expected core competencies in the areas of Radar Systems, Protection Systems, Avionic Systems, Engineering IT & 3D Visual Simulation, Aerostructure and Aerospace Modelling & Simulation. Cassidian plans to increase the current set of 60 employees to more than 200 by the end of 2012, and integrate the new centre within Cassidian’s global Engineering Organization.
At the same time, Indian authorities have approved a 26%/ 76% joint venture between EADS Cassidian and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in Mumbai. The JV will be based in Talegaon near Pune and in Bengaluru, focused on electronic warfare, radars, avionics and mobile systems (such as bridges) for military applications. The joint venture will cooperate closely with Cassidian’s new Bengaluru engineering centre. Engineering Centre | Cassisian and Larsen & Tourbo partnership | See also Eurofighter GmbH’s announcement re: its India industrial strategy – which is extremely light on details.
Feb 8/11: Saab announces the establishment of a Research and Development Centre in India, with an initial base of 100-300 Indian engineers. Areas of focus would cover aerospace, defence and urban innovation including civil security.
See also Saab’s “India – an important part of Saabs production flow”, which covers Saab Aerostructures’ industrial strategy more generally. To date, Saab is working with Tata Advance Material (small to medium sized composite parts), QuEST Engineering (sheet metal and machined parts), and CIM Tools (machining and sub-assemblies). Saab officials also stressed existing tie ups with HAL, where Saab components are already featured on export variants of HAL’s Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters. Meanwhile, campaign director Eddy de la Motte reiterates promises of full technology transfer on all critical sub components, including the AESA radar. Saab Group | India Defence.
Super Hornet Int’l
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Nov 7/10: Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reports that the Eurofighter:
”...has come top in the Indian Air Force’s technical assessment of rival bids…. If the Typhoon clinches the deal, India would become the consortium’s third-largest customer and an unofficial “fifth partner” in the project. Thousands of new jobs would also be created in India, including a new EADS avionics plant. Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain are waging a joint diplomatic campaign to support the Typhoon bid…. A senior Indian official has told The Sunday Telegraph that its air force’s technical findings have been forwarded to the defence ministry, where a final decision is expected to be made in the next few months. “There are a number of cost and strategic considerations which still have to be looked at, but in purely technical terms, Eurofighter is ahead,” the official said.”
See also: India Defence | Livemint | Tehelka.
Oct 29/10: Livemint interviews a number of senior executives from Eurofighter-related firms, as they discuss the potential Indian deal. Participants include Eurofighter GmbH CEO Enzo Casolini, Cassidan (EADS) Air Systems CEO Bernhard Gerwert, and BAE Systems’ managing director of Typhoon mission support and international programmes Christopher Boardman.
Oct 25-28/10: Jet engine jolt. NewsX’s Vishal Thapar broadcasts a reports that a Eurojet consultant has been expelled from India for illegally obtaining information on GE’s bid, trying to substitute a new Eurojet bid by offering a monetary inducement, and then planting media reports that Eurojet was ahead on price. Thapar also claims that this is why the Indian MoD took the unusual step of announcing GE as its low-cost bidder, before a contract was signed.
The follow-on effects could be very severe if true, making it very difficult for India to pick the Eurofighter as its M-MRCA medium fighter. Eurojet’s communication agency subsequently issues the following denial. See India Defence:
“Eurojet Turbo GmbH categorically denies unfounded allegations made in the NewsX report titled ” India expels arms dealer”, authored by Vishal Thapar and released on 23 October 2010. The report lacks any factual base and is a work of fiction.”
“Eurofighter, its partner companies and the four nation members of the European consortium Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain, are fully committed to deepening the strategic partnership with India. Paving the way for this long-term cooperation, the Supervisory Board of Eurofighter GmbH is meeting in New Delhi for the first time. CEOs from Eurofighter partner companies (EADS, BAE Systems and Alenia Aeronautica) are visiting New Delhi from 25th to 26th October 2010. The Supervisory Board will support the ongoing Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) campaign and propose to the potential Indian partners additional opportunities for industrial and technological cooperation.”
Oct 18/10: Britain and India hold Indra Dhanush 2010, and the exercise will feature British Eurofighters again. The RAF is sending Eurofighter Typhoon, E-3D Sentry AWACS, and VC10 aerial refueling planes. The IAF will field the SU-30 MKI, Mirage 2000s, MiG-27s and their new A-50T Phalcon AWACS Aircraft. The exercises will last until Nov 3/10. India Times | Frontier Indiak2p.
Oct 1/10: F414 for Tejas. India’s Business Standard may want a word with its sources. GE announces that its F414 engine has been picked to power the Tejas Mk.II fighter. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) will order 99 jet engines, with GE Aviation supplying the initial batch of F414-GE-INS6, engines and the rest manufactured in India under transfer of technology arrangements. At present, this is just “preferred bidder” status, not a contract yet.
The selection of GE’s F414 deepens a relationship that has supplied 41 earlier model GE F404 engines so far, in order to power initial Tejas LCA Mk.I fighters and LCA Naval prototypes. GE describes the F414-GE-INS6 as “the highest-thrust F414 model,” without offering specifics, but is has been working on an F414 Enhanced Performance Engine. The INS6 will add single-engine safety features in its digital controls, something GE also installed in the F414 variant powering one M-MRCA candidate, the JAS-39 Gripen NG. The standard F414 powers the Super Hornet family.
Sept 20/10: India’s Business Standard reports that the European EJ200 engine may have the edge in the competition to supply the Tejas Mk.II fleet’s powerplants:
“Informed sources have told Business Standard that when the bids were opened last week, European consortium Eurojet bid $666 million for 99 EJ200 engines, against US rival General Electric, which quoted $822 million.”
Both engines have been ruled technically suitable, so the lower priced bid will win, but the bidding process isn’t 100% final yet. The paper also quotes Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak (ret.) of the Indian Air Force’s Centre for Air Power Studies, who draws the obvious conclusion:
“It is as clear as daylight. Selecting the EJ200 for the Tejas would boost the Eurofighter’s prospects in the MMRCA contest. Its engines, which form about 15-20 per cent of the cost of a modern fighter, would be already manufactured in India for the Tejas [after the 1st 10 were built abroad]. For the same reason, rejecting the GE F-414 would diminish the chances of the two fighters [F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and JAS-39NG/IN] that fly with that engine.”
Aug 12/10: Boeing Defence, Space and Security India head Vivek Lall touts the benefits of their International Super Hornet Roadmap for India, and India’s ability to particpate in it and add new features to the platform. Brahmand.
Aug 7/10: India’s Times Now news show reports that the M-MRCA trials will leave only Dassault’s Rafale and EADS’ Eurofighter in the race. That later turns out to be true. Brahmand |Livefist.
July 27/10: Remaining process. India Today reports on the remaining M-MRCA process. Elsewhere, it echoes nebulous rumors that some of the candidates failed high-altitude testing at Leh:
“After this, the “commercial bids” of each would be opened by the defence ministry mandarins, who will, for the first time, examine the commercial offers made by the companies more than two years ago. For the first time, a new system of costfixing has been introduced that not only takes into account the unit prices but also calculates the ‘life cycle costs’-which takes into account the cost of maintenance and spares for the period, estimated at 40 years, the aircraft would remain operational. On the basis of this, the lowest bidder (L1) would be determined by a commercial negotiation committee headed by an additional secretary of the ministry. The committee will also have members of the service headquarters of the army, navy and air force. They would then conduct price negotiations with the L1 bidder to improve upon the initial offer. Finally, a paper would be prepared for the Cabinet Committee on Security that would have to give its seal of approval and award the contract. It is at this stage, before the contract is awarded, that government-to-government negotiations would be conducted to get the best additional benefits for the country.”
July 21/10: F-16 refueling innovation. At Farnborough 2010, HAL and its partners announce a significant piece of equipment for global F-16s. Right now, F-16s can only be refueled via a dorsal refueling boom, but many air forces depend on refueling probes that fit into hose-and-drogue systems, a preference shared by the US Navy. India’s competition requires hose-and-drogue refueling – and now a team of HAL, Lockheed Martin, Flight Refueling Ltd. in the UK, and Israel Aerospace Industries has a solution.
Many F-16s already carry conformal fuel tanks that add lots of fuel, but minimize the associated drag and performance hit. The Conformal Aerial Refueling Tank System (CARTS) modifies the right-forward conformal tank to include a pop-out refueling probe, and the system feeds fuel into the fighter directly through the same refuel manifold that a refueling boom would use. This makes CARTS a plug-and-play solution that can be retrofitted to global F-16 fleets, and gives the team a key niche product no matter what choice India makes. Defense World | F-16.NET(incl. picture).
July 20/10: Super Hornet International. Boeing’s VP and General Manager of Global Strike Systems, Shelley Lavender, announces a “Super Hornet International Road Map” at Farnborough 2010. Technology modifications would include internal IRST to detect infrared emissions from enemy aircraft (instead of the US Navy’s current retrofit approach using a modified centerline fuel tank), an enclosed weapons pod to lower radar signature that can carry up to 2 AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles and 2 JDAM 500 pound smart bombs, full spherical laser and missile warning systems, a new cockpit based on large touch-screen technology, improved F414 engines (EDE/EPE), and conformal fuel tanks mounted up top to boost range.
These enhancements are described as an “international road map,” reflecting ongoing competitions in Brazil, Denmark, India, and elsewhere. These same modifications also have the potential to become part of a US Navy multi-year buy agreement with Boeing, if the Navy is willing. Presentation [PDF].
July 16/10: India’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, tells IANS that the Indian Air Force will sign the contract to buy 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) “within a year,” [DID: not even close] and that the IAF flight evaluations will be ready by month-end, and submitted to the defence ministry. After that, the sealed bids will be opened and the aircraft will be short-listed for commercial evaluation. India’s Economic Times | Hindustan Times.
July 13/10: Sea Gripen? Flight International reports from Farnborough on JAS-39NG plans and testing, including plans to allocate development funds for a carrier-based “Sea Gripen” variant, as described above. Having said that:
“The Sea Gripen will not be developed by Sweden alone… but potential partners could include Brazil and India, who have been offered to do work in their own countries. [Gripen technical director Eddy] De la Motte says the “cost of that programme will be a couple of billion Swedish crowns; more than one billion [DID: over $135 million]. It will be half of the Gripen NG’s development programme cost.”
The big challenge is that India has already picked the MiG-29K as its carrier-borne fighter, and Brazil may well close its door by picking the carrier-capable Rafale. Other carrier-using countries have locked in their future fighter choices, with the exception of Thailand and Spain. This means the Gripen would need to win in Brazil, or depend on new countries joining the ranks of naval fighter operators, in order to make Sea Gripen viable. For now, the announcement adds to their existing bid in Brazil, and thanks to the stated need for a partner, it costs nothing up front.
June 10/10: At Berlin’s ILA 2010 air show, EADS Defence & Security CEO Stefan Zoller tells IANS that:
“We will transfer some of our development projects, which we have in Europe for Eurofighter or other military aircraft to India, where we have set up a military research and development (R&D) centre in Bangalore…. We will transfer 60 percent of the Eurofighter technology to India if Typhoon wins the bid. Our long-term strategy is to partner with the Indian aerospace industry for our global market, as we consider the Indian talent and resources…. We also want to establish a division of our defence and security wing in India independent of the IAF order for Typhoon not to duplicate what we are doing in Europe but replicate its business model to leverage the potential of the Indian aerospace industry through joint ventures and offset projects.”
See India’s Economic Times.
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April 28/10: No decision for you. India needs to extend its competition for a year, because competitor flight trials won’t be finished until some time in May 2010. Today was to be the deadline and bid expiry, 2 years after accepting price quotes. India’s Defense Ministry has asked manufacturers to submit offers for an additional year. Flight trials remain underway at 3 key locations: near Leh, high in the Himalayas; a desert base in Rajasthan; and Bangalore’s tropical climate. The expectation is that the IAF will provide the government with 2-3 accetable options, then let the politicians pick.
Lockheed Martin (F-16 Block 60+) and Boeing (F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet) have said that they are modifying their bids, Sweden’s Saab (JAS-39NG) plans to extend its bid unchanged, and Dassault (Rafale), EADS (Eurofighter), and RAC-MiG (MiG-35) have made no public commitment one way or another. This 1-year delay could raise costs, but more favorable exchange rates could shift prices the other way. It also gives competitors who have deepened their Indian partnerships the ability to revise that information in their offer.
From the MMRCA bid due date of April 28/08 to April 28/10, the US dollar has risen against India’s rupee about 10.5%, while the Euro has become 6% cheaper, and the Russian rouble has become 11.6% cheaper.
March 9/10: Gripen trials. Sweden flies its Gripen fighters into Bangalore for MMRCA-related trials – but India’s Business Standard reports that they’ll be JAS-39D Gripens, not the new Gripen NG. That could get the platform disqualified, depending on the decisions made by the IAF and Indian MoD:
“The Gripen NG… has always been one of the hottest contenders in the fray. Saab’s default on the MoD’s trial directive, which lays down that the fighter being offered must be the one that comes for trials [leaves it] vulnerable to disqualification…. the Swedish Air Force, having opted to buy the Gripen NG, has ordered a series of improvements on the Gripen NG prototype. With those under way, Sweden’s flight certification agency, SMV, has ruled that the prototypes require additional flight-testing in Sweden before the aircraft can be sent to India…. Sources close to the Gripen campaign say IAF pilots will be offered a chance to fly the Gripen NG during a visit to Sweden from April 6 to April 10. Gripen International will also ask for fresh dates for bringing the Gripen NG to India for trials.”
Feb 20/10: Pallam Raju, India’s Minister of State for defence, tells Reuters that:
“The trials should conclude by the middle of this year…. Once the trials are concluded, then we will be looking into the financial bids. We are speeding up things.”
It’s hard to tell just what that means, in India, where taking over a decade to buy ready-made equipment in not unusual. Economic Times of India.
Feb 3/10: Eurojet says it will share single-crystal engine blade technologies with India if Eurofighter wins MMRCA, or the EJ200 engine is selected for the LCA Tejas Mk2.
Nov 23/09: India’s Ministry of Defence offers a laconic update of the MMRCA program:
“The proposal for procurement of quantity 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force has not been finalized. The proposals received in response to the Request for Proposals are presently at Field Evaluation Trials stage. The estimated cost of the proposal is Rs. 42,000 crores approximately.”
At this day’s interbank conversion rate, 42,000 crore (INR 420 billion) = $9.055 billion.
Oct 16/09: Mirage 2000 backlash? India’s Business Standard reports that the long-awaitedMirage 2000 upgrade deal may have fallen through. The beneficiary would be the MMRCA competition for 126+ medium fighters, which would rise to 8 squadrons via a follow on order or local production of 2 more squadrons (40-48 planes, to replace 51 Mirage 2000s). According to their report, however, Dassault may have hurt its chances there, too:
“According to senior IAF sources, Dassault has refused to reduce its quota of Rs 10,000 crore ($2.1 billion) for extending the service life of the IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet by fitting new radars and avionics. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) considers this price – Rs 196 crore ($41 million) per aircraft – unacceptably high…. Israeli aerospace companies have reportedly entered the fray, offering to upgrade the Mirage-2000 for half the price being quoted by Dassault. The MoD, however, is not inclined to accept that offer.
....The IAF, traditionally a staunch supporter of Dassault and the Mirage-2000 fighter, is apparently changing its views. Dassault, say pilots, has badly damaged its credibility during the recent negotiations by arm-twisting the IAF over the supply of spares for the Mirage-2000 fleet.”
Sept 17/09: Russia’s RIA Novosti reports that Phazotron NIIR corporation has developed the Zhuk-AE AESA radar for the MiG-35, but Forecast International quotes Phazotron-NIIR head Vyacheslav Tishchenko as saying that “We are ready to develop a new advanced radar jointly with India.”
The Zhuk-AE reportedly meets the MMRCA RFP’s requirement of an active array radar with a target detection range of at least 130 km/ 81 miles. Phazotron general director Vyacheslav Tishchenko is quoted as saying that the X-band, AESA Zhuk-AE has a range of 148 km/ 92 miles, can track 30 aerial targets in the track-while-scan mode, and can engage 6 targets simultaneously. Tishchenko reportedly believes that detection range may be able to grow to 200 km/ 124 miles, as the design uses many elements of previous radars and is not optimized for AESA. See also APA’s “Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE: Assessing Russia’s First AESA.”
Aug 13/09: MiG-35 late. Russian spokesmen reportedly say that production of the MiG-35 cannot begin before 2013-14, which means that the IAF would not be able to take delivery before 2014. Unless the competition itself is delayed, that’s likely to put the MiG-35 at a significant disadvantage against the other competitors, all of whom would be able to begin delivering aircraft by 2011 or even 2010. RIA Novosti | Deccan Chronicle.
July 6/09: US ITAR strongarm. Israeli and Indian newspapers report that the USA has pressured Israel’s IAI not to partner with Sweden’s Saab in the MMRCA competition against American firms. IAI would have offered integrated avionics and related systems for the MMRCA competition. Israel was forced to give the USA de facto veto authority over its weapons exports, as a condition of being eligible to participate in the F-35 fighter program.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the USA had expressed concern that “Western technology in Israeli hands would make its way to the Indians.” That’s a completely illogical concern, of course, given that Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been cleared to offer the most advanced versions of their fighter jets, complete with AESA radars, to India, in the same competition. The only logical conclusion is that the move is a pure political favor to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The Jerusalem Post report adds that Israel was also pressured out of Turkey’s $500+ million tank competition – which American firm General Dynamics ended up losing to South Korea’s XK-2, anyway. Jerusalem Post | Indian Express | Zopag.
May 15/09: Rafale’s return. Indian media confirm that assault’s Rafale has been readmitted to the MMRCA competition. The “quality requirements” it had failed to meet reportedly involve information on key systems that was not provided to India, and that issue has reportedly been fixed.
The Rafale will now participate in MMRCA aircraft trials, and recently gained another boost to its prospects. Thales recently completed flight tests for its RBE2-AA active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The next batch of about 60 Rafales for the French air force and navy is expected to include this radar, and it will also be offered for export. domain-b | The Hindu |Times of India | Zee News.
Rafale Le Bourget 2005
India: another one
bites the dust?
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May 13/09: An Aviation Week report has this quote, despite statements by several Indian officials that the Rafale has been eliminated:
“We are still preparing, actively, technology demonstrations for later this year and early next year,” says Jean-Noel Stock, who leads Rafale efforts at Thales, which is responsible for around a third of the weapons system. He stresses that Rafale is still in competition for the 126 fighter deal…. By year’s end, the company expects the first full-production contract for the [RBE2-AA] AESA [equipped Rafales] in France”
April 16/09: Rafale out? Indian media report that Dassault’s Rafale has been disqualified from India’s MMRCA competition. Exact reasons were not specified, beyond vague reports that “it did not meet the General Staff Quality Requirements.”
Dassault is measured in its public replies, stating only that Rafale International has not been formally made aware of any such decision. If these reports are true, however, Dassault’s move to strangle its Swedish competitor by denying it Thales’ radar may have ended up costing Thales any chance of an order from India.
Disqualification at this technical trials stage means that the Rafale would not proceed to the coming summer and winter trials, which will be followed by the creation of a shortlist, and then more negotiations. Indan sources still see at least 2 more years before an actual purchase contract is inked. Agence France Presse | Calcutta Telegraph | The Hindu | Times of India |Reuters | Thaindian News | StrategyPage, include order history for Rafales to date.
March 10/09: AESA Radar Options. Aviation Week’s “AESA Radars Are A Highlight of Aero-India” offers a look at various contenders’ radar choices.
America has an AESA technology lead, so its offerings are the most stable and mature. The F-16IN had the most choices. Ratheon’s RACR and Northrop Grumman’s SABR are both designed as drop-in AESA radars for the F-16, but Lockheed Martin chose Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-80, which is already installed in the UAE’s F-16E/F Block 60s and has a 100% in-service record over 4 years. The other American contender, Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Block 2, will use its standard AN/APG-79 AESA radar.
Dassault’s Rafale will use Thales’ new RBE2-AA, but its acquisition of a large shareholding in Thales means Saab’s JAS-39NG will not use an RBE2-AA front end as planned. Saab has a number of alternative AESA options, from Raytheon’s RACR to an enlarged version of Selex Galileo’s Vixen, but the uncertainty raises its risk profile in a number of ways.
Eurofighter reportedly had the most interesting but least mature proposals, involving AESA arrays built into other areas of the plane. Eurofighter GmbH is working on the CAESAR AESA radar, but hat is in early development. Accordingly, it touts its existing mechanically-scanned Selex Galileo ECR-90 Captor over in-service AESA radars. EADS Military Air Systems SVP of engineering Peter Gutsmiedl was reportedly talking about the option of adding small AESA side arrays, an azimuth gimbal, or even a canted AESA “swashplate” fitted to a rotating mount, inside a canted antenna. These embedded radar options would allow the benefits of AESA, but with a much wider scan radius that could radically change the engagement cone for radar-guided air-air missiles. If they are built, that is, and successfully tested.
February 2009: Defense Update reports that Saab’s Gripen is prominent by its absence at Aero India 2009. The single Gripen NG prototype is reportedly booked with flight testing activities, and cost cutting measures at Saab ran afoul of the expense involved in flying the plane to India.
Feb 10/09: Saab and TATA Consultancy Services (TCS) partnered Aeronaoutical Design and Development Centre (ADDC) has been awarded its first contract by Saab to participate in the aerostructural design and development for Gripen NG. Gripen International.
Jan 17/09: Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major reveals that the IAF will conduct a fly-off of the 6 MMRCA contenders some time in April-May 2009.
Rumors have been started that Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen might be left out of these field trials as a result of the IAF’s Technical Evaluation Committee report, which is said to have been submitted to the Indian ministry of defense in mid-November 2008. That report has to be approved by the ministry before the field trials can begin. Those claims regarding the Gripen’s relative capabilities are difficult to reconcile with the roster of competitors. Meanwhile, Gripen International’s India director Eddy de la Motte says:
“We firmly believe the report does not have any basis and the news is incorrect. Gripen meets or exceeds every operational requirement raised by the IAF in all roles – air-to-air fighter, [beyond visual range/within visual range], air-to-surface land and sea, and reconnaissance.”
See: India Defence re: trials | India Defence re: Gripen.
JAS-39IN concept
(click to view full)
Dec 8/08: Dassault Aviation announces agreements with Tata Technologies’ subsidiary INCAT [DID note: not the Australian naval firm] for Engineering Services Outsourcing. Under the terms of the MoU, INCAT will provide Dassault Aviation with Engineering Services in a number of critical domains, in support of the Indian Air Force MMRCA program under its industrial offset requirements.
The services would use INCAT’s Global Delivery model, delivered largely from the recently-established INCAT HAL Aerostructures Limited (IHAL) dedicated aerospace engineering services centre joint venture in Bangalore, India. It would be backed up by INCAT’s delivery teams in France and the USA.
Nov 6/08: India Defence reays concerns from Dassault Aviation’s senior vice president for military sales J.P.H.P. Chabriol. After observing that the Rafale, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter constitute one tier of price and capabilities, and the F-16, JAS-39 Gripen, and MiG-35 constitute another, he adds that:
“The IAF’s RFP (request for proposal), in the first analysis, in terms of performance, is not extremely demanding. We don’t want a situation where the other three aircraft are compliant with the RFP but we lose out on the price differential…. The IAF has to decide whether it wants a heavy aircraft or a light aircraft…. Quite obviously, there would be a price differential if a single or a twin-engine jet is chosen. If India takes the L-1 (lowest tender) route this would be unfair because we have a good product but this quality comes at a price.”
It shoud be remembered that Dassault withdrew its own Mirage 2000 lightweight fighter from the MMRCA competition before the RFP was finalized. Chabriol reportedly added that Dassault had made an ‘unsolicited offer’ of 40 Rafales as well, presumably as an inducement toward a dual platform “high-low” MMRCA buy. India Defence.
Nov 5/08: Rafale: full tech transfer. domain-b reports that France’s government gas approved full technology transfer for the Rafale fighter, including the AESA radar currently under development for that platform. The decision could also have corollary benefits for Saab’s Gripen, as Saab is currently engaged in a joint development arrangement with Thales around the RB2 for its JAS-39 Gripen NG.
Dassault Aviation’s senior vice president for military sales J.P.H.P. Chabriol added that Source code transfer would be included. This is a major step, as it would enable the IAF to program the radars itself without having to specify mission parameters to foreign manufacturers. Chabroil also pointed to the lack of American components in the Rafale, which generates concern in some Indian quarters despite sbstantially improved relations with Washington:
“The Gripen is powered by a US engine and has other US components too. Similar is the case with the Eurofighter, which has quite a few American parts. So, they would have to first seek the US government’s approval. In the case of the F-18, approval would have to be sought not only of the government but also of parliament [US Congress]. This legislative approval is not an issue in our case.”
Oct 7/08: A domain-b report quotes Alexei Fyodorov, chief of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). Fyodorov says what he’s expected to say, then adds an interesting allegation:
“The competition is very tough, but we have several trump cards – the MiG-35’s superb performance characteristics and the fact that Russia and India share a long-standing partnership in strategic and political cooperation…. So far, none of the participants has met the demands of the tender put forward by the Indian air force….”
Sept 10/08: Saab announces a letter of intent with Tata Consultancy Services Limited (TCS), regarding establishment of an Aeronautical Design and Development Centre (ADDC) in India. The centre is not aimed at any particular program but will explore market opportunities in areas such as aero structures, aero systems, avionics and after market support for both military and civil aeronautical applications. Saab release.
Aug 4/08: RFP Bids In. The RFP responses are in, and are being evaluated. India’s Economic Times reports that 3 of the bidders have just submitted their companion industrial offset proposals so far: Boeing (F/A-18E/F), EADS (Eurofighter), and Lockheed Martin (F-16IN).
Boeing said it would meet its obligations through a line up that includes 37 Indian partners in the public and private sectors. Lockheed Martin noted that it had already established 4 F-16 production lines outside the USA. EADS mentioned a “fully-fledged response,” but did not otherwise go into much detail; like Boeing, cooperation with its civilian arm (Airbus) is a near-certain component of their offer.
Industrial offset esponses from Dassault (Rafale), Gripen International (JAS-39NG), and Rosoboronexport (MiG-35) are reportedly still pending. They are also due in August.
May 28/08: EADS is quoted as inviting India to become the 5th country and the first outside Europe to become part of the Eurofighter consortium. The industrial example of Spain’s participation is used. The Hindu’s report adds that EADS is also prepared to involve India in its supersonic jet trainer development program (the stalled Mako project, which needs an external partner to move forward) as well as unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles.
May 5/08: More details concerning the Boeing/Raytheon Super Hornet offer appear in India’s press. According to Boeing’s F-18 programme manager for India Mike Rietz, Boeing’s offset program involves a 4-phase effort.
  • Phase 0 supplies 18 fully assembled Block II Super Hornets.
  • Phase 1 and 2 will deliver 54 aircraft as partial assemblies , and would begin within 54 months of the contract’s start date.
  • Phase 1 supplies 1,800 parts and 300 tools for assembly by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. in India.
  • Phase 2 supplies HAL with 17,000 parts and over 1,000 tools for assembly.
  • The final 54 aircraft of Phase 3 would have the entire range of the airframe’s 30,000 parts built in India, with the last aircraft delivered by 2020.
With respect to radar technology transfer, Raytheon’s Dave Goold states the obvious when he says that “Our response has been fully compliant with the IAF request for proposal (RFP). However, the extent of technology transfer would be dependent on the permission we receive from the US government…. The issue is under discussion.” If technology transfer is limited by the government, this could result in AN/APG-79 radars being supported in India but manufactured entirely in the USA. The question is whether that would disqualify the Boeing bid outright, or force a shift back to earlier APG-73 radars. The extent of radar technology transfer is reportedly set at 60% in India’s RFP. News Post India report.
April 28/08: MMRCA bids due. Gripen International delivers its MMRCA bid to India’s Ministry of Defence. The JAS-39IN is based on the Gripen NG/ Gripen Demo, and includes an AESA radar and an IRST (InfraRed Scan and Track) system, a Transfer of Technology (ToT) program, a life-time logistics support solution sourced from Indian suppliers with support from Saab and its partners, and full industrial offset cooperation. Eddy de la Motte, Gripen International’s India Campaign Director:
“Gripen IN will provide India with a capability that offers complete independence of weapon supply…. We will do this by transferring all necessary technologies to enable Indian industry and the Air Force to build, operate and modify Gripen to meet all indigenous requirements over time.”
It is presumed that other manufacturer’s bids were also submitted by the deadline. Gripen International release.
April 24/08: Boeing delivers a 7,000-page proposal offering its advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to the Indian Air Force, and The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi will formally hand it over to Indian Ministry of Defense. The F/A-18IN includes Raytheon’s APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, and Boeing is also touting the claim that “the fighter won’t need a scheduled visit to a maintenance depot until it has clocked a minimum of 6,000 hours of flying time, and even well beyond that.” Delivery of the first F/A-18IN Super Hornets can begin approximately 36 months after contract award.
Over the past 36 months, Boeing IDS has signed long-term partnership agreements with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Tata Industries, and Larson and Toubro. Boeing’s releaseannounces that: “If the F/A-18IN Super Hornet is selected, these companies and others are expected to play a significant role as Boeing transfers some production and assembly to India.”
Feb 26/08: Bid extension. The Indian government has extended the date of submission for technical and commercial bids for the MMRCA program from March 3/08 to April 28/08, while the deadline for offset bids has been extended from May until August 2008. Defense News.
Feb 25/08: Offsets challenge. Securing over $5 billion (50% of $10+ billion) in industrial offsets is a difficult task, if a country has almost no private sector defense firms to speak of. That’s India’s problen, and it extends beyond MMRCA to other major buys. In order to deal with that problem, India is borrowing a page from its silicon entrepreneurs.
The Mumbai based India Rizing Fund is on the look out for Small and Medium Enterprises engaged in defence equipment related production, which it plans to back with up to $300 million: an initial fund of $100-140 million equivalent, with the potential to add another $300 million equivalent. The time horizon is 10-14 years, and susequent Aero India 2009 interviews indicate a desite for 15-30 active companies in the portfolio receiving capital, management assistance, and other Venture Capital type support. Silicon India.
Dec 6/07: India MoD release. Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Vijay J Darda and Smt. Shobhana Bhartia in Rajya Sabha:
“The Ministry of Defence has received no offer from the United States for transfer of high technology weaponry including its 5th-generation joint Strike Fighter F-35.”
There have been reports of a Lockheed Martin MMRCA offer mixing F-16s early and F-35s later, but this is one of those “seems to say more than it does” statements. It is strictly true, as any offers would have come from US manufacturers. Formal export approvals and offers from the United States would follow the standard DSCA announcement + 30 days process, once the Indian government had picked a winner.
Oct 10/07: Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes analysts predicting a six-month delay in the procurement, and adds that some Western bidders believe they are being negatively affected by the myriad of conditions in the RFP:
“Deba R Mohanty, a senior fellow in security studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation – who reviewed a copy of the RfP shortly after it was issued to the six contenders – told Jane’s in early October that the complexity of the RfP document is the main reason why the deadline is likely to be delayed a further six months until September 2008.”
Aug 30/07: Reuters reports that the MMRCA’s 50% industrial offset requirements could be a huge challenge for bidding companies:
“I think there’s a lot of concern in industry”... said retired Lt. Gen. Jeffey Kohler, who stepped down on Wednesday as chief of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Establishing a process for proper crediting of the newly created business with the Indian defense ministry and integrating new production would be a “big challenge,” he said in a telephone interview with Reuters. In addition, Kohler said there were questions about whether companies such as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which would be a primary beneficiary, could absorb all the new opportunities to be sent its way.”
If industrial offsets prove to be a problem, this would improve the prospects for RSK-MiG (MiG-35), who already has co-production arrangements in India, and for Boeing (F/A-18), EADS (Euofighter) and Saab (JAS-39 Gripen), who can offer civilian industrial offsets in the airliner and automotive sectors.
Israel’s F-16I
(click to view full)
Aug 28/07: RFP released. India’s MoD finally releases the MRCA request for proposal. See coverage above, and also Economic Times of India | The Hindu | Hindustan Times | India Defence | Bloomberg. Some reports also mention an option for an additional 64 aircraft:Business Standard | Press Times of India news service | Flight International | Domain-B Aviation & Aerospace | Saab Group release.
Aug 21/07: Russia showcases its MiG-29K carrier-based fighter specially developed for the Indian Navy at the 8th international aerospace show ‘MAKS-2007’. The MiG-29K is equipped with modified ‘Sea Wasp’ engines providing greater thrust in hot and humid tropical climate of the Indian Ocean. The Economic Times report adds that “Eying the USD 9 billion contract for the delivery of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to the Indian Air Force, Russia’s MiG Corporation has also fielded its favourite MiG-35 and MiG-29OVT with thrust vectoring engines.”
July 2/07: Gripen International continues to tout its aircraft for India’s MRCA competition. India Defence reports that the firm has gone one step farther than the July 2006 promise to have all airframe production take place in India. The firm stresses that the aircraft would be next-generation “Gripen Demo” aircraft, and adds that they were “willing to provide all the know-how for India to carry out modifications according to its needs.” This is a very high level of technology transfer, and resembles the benchmark adopted by the partner nations in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter consortium.
India’s government is still finalizing ground rules for the MRCA competition.
May 15/07: India Defence analysis – “Air Force MRCA Deal: Avionics, Weapons Packages Could Tilt Balance.” The F-16I is listed as a contender, and it says that Elbit avionics may end up installed in whichever aircraft wins.
Jan 23/07: India Defence’s headline says it all: MiG-35: Top Candidate for Air Force MRCA Deal. But perhaps not the only winner…
Nov 6/06: AESA for MiG-35s? Jane’s International Defence Review reports that Phazotron-NIIR in Moscow, Russia is completing 2 prototypes of the Zhuk-MAE active electronically scanned radar. They’re hoping to offer it with the MiG-29OVT (MiG-35) fighters being tendered by Russia. RSK MiG required a first flight with the experimental Zhuk-MAE radar during the first half of November 2006, in order to meet its goal of demonstrating it at the February “Aero India 2007” exhibition in Bangalore, India.
Oct 11/06: DID publishes “India Looks to Order 40 More Mirage 2000s, Upgrade Other Aircraft.” The Mirages are not a done deal yet – and never get done. India ends up opting for an upgrade to existing fighters, instead.
Oct 3/06: India may fast track MRCA deal. According to this report, recent crashes and uncertainty over the Tejas light fighter are upping the pressure on the IAF, and the M-MRCARFQ may be accelerated. Accelerated compared to what, one wonders?
Sept 6/06: Russian engine deal. India’s HAL will produce R-33 engines for the MiG-29under license, in a $275 million deal. DID explains the deal, and why it probably improves the MiG’s chances even though the MiG-29OVT/MiG-35 uses the RD-133 thrust vectoring engine.
July 19/06: Saab pledges to conduct all production in India if it wins, and cites its record of successfully meeting industrial offset provisions.
July 17/06: Indian pilots preparing to test-fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
June 14/06: F-16I? Defense News says that Lockheed may offer India Israel’s F-16I “Sufa”(“Storm”) as its MRCA entry. This unusual because the F-16Is have many of their avionics and electronics replaced with Israeli technology.
India already uses a lot of Israeli electronics in its upgraded Russian aircraft, and the move would create commonality while leveraging a combat-proven design with extra strike capability. Still, Defence News notes that if Lockheed does offer the F-16I to India, it would be the first time an extensively modified US fighter containing non-US-made avionics, weaponry and major sub-systems had been offered at the front end of an international competition, without the customer explicitly requesting it (as Chile and Singapore did for Israeli avionics et. al. in their F-16s).
1 STOBAR = Short Take-Off But Assisted Recovery. Means it has no catapult and so uses a “ski jump” in the front, but uses arrestor wires to catch returning aircraft because it flies conventional aircraft rather than STOVL (Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing) planes like the F-35B or planes like the Sea Harriers. Sea Harriers are used on India’s existing Viraat (ex-Hermes) carrier, in a V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing) arrangement.

Appendix A – MMRCA: The Naval Angle

F-18F Super Hornet landing
F/A-18F, carrier landing
(click to view full)
In February 2006, Jane’s Defense expressed the belief that India would increase its initial requirement from 126 multirole combat aircraft (MRCA) to around 180-190 aircraft, with the additional number being considered for acquisition by the Indian Navy. If true, it would have been an even bigger change than allowing medium-high end multi-role fighters into the competition. Reports from other outlets varied, however, and some had India standing firm at 126 aircraft.
The Indian MoD release only mentioned 126 aircraft, but there is an option for another 64 aircraft on the same terms; if true, this would bring the potential deal up to 190 aircraft.
The RFP has not been made available to the public, but naval compatibility requirements did end up influencing the competition, as manufacturers considered the advantages of fielding a plane that was able to operate from India’s future STOBAR1 carriers like the INS Vikramaditya (ex- Admiral Gorshkov) . Or the Vikrant Class (aka. Air Defence Ship), which will reportedly weigh in at 37,500 tonnes with a design that is heavily influenced by Italy’s Cavour Class.
The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Dassault’s Rafale-M variant, were already navalized fighters, with structures designed to resist both corrosion and the controlled-crash stress of carrier landings. They currently operate from catapult-equipped carriers, however, rather than the “ski-jump” designs used in INS Vikramaditya and the forthcoming Vikrant Class. Some testing would be required, if India envisages a dual-role for any of its M-RCA planes.
Rafale-M on CVN Charles De Gaulle
Rafale-M carrier launch
(click to view full)
By the end of the competition, other options existed as well. At Aero India 2011, Eurofighter GmbH and BAE unveiled an initial, internally-funded Eurofighter Naval design. Their release expressly promoted their belief that it could operate at full load from ski jump carrier decks (STOBAR).
Saab’s 2010 promotion of a “Sea Gripen” concept, without more advanced work to back it up yet, looked like it was designed to offer both budgetary resolution using a cheaper platform, and an opportunity for Indian firms to play a larger design role in the estimated $135 million development program. In May 2011, however, Saab announced that it was proceeding with independent development of a Sea Gripen variant, which would leverage their fighter’s built-in Short Take-Off and Landing capabilities.
In a similar vein, Russia’s MiG-35 M-MRCA contender is related to the MiG-29K naval variant that India is already buying. If Russia wished to invest in the idea, a carrier-capable MiG-35K may also be doable – if the extra weight of the new fuel tanks doesn’t create a problem, given the hard impacts of carrier landings.
Sea Gripen
Sea Gripen Concept
(click to view full)
Recall, however, India’s need to replace large numbers of aircraft. The Super Hornet reportedly has a stable, proven flyaway cost around $60 million. Existing JAS-39 Gripen fighters reportedly sit in the $40-50 million range, but Gripen NG and Sea Gripen modifications would each drive up the price. MiG-35s have no benchmarks for price yet, but their base MiG-29s are relatively cheap, and even a MiG-35 is expected to sell for under $50 million. The Rafale and Eurofighter, on the other hand, have both been cited as $100+ million planes.
A naval requirement within the competition looked like it would increase the pressure to split the order between high-expense platforms, and a cheaper lightweight fighter contender. Alternatively, India may simply decide to remain on its own naval aviation path. The country is funding a navalized variant of its Tejas LCA lightweight fighter, and plans to operate navalized MiG-29Ks alongside them. They could decide that higher-end naval cousins to the IAF’s M-MRCA fighters are unnecessary at this point, and that they would rather spend the same funds to field new ships, submarines, maritime patrol planes, etc.
Time will tell.

Appendix B – Dassault’s Move: Au Revoir, Mirage

AvWeek 2011 analysis
(click for video)
One pre-RFP surprise was the withdrawal of the Mirage 2000 from the unofficial competition, even though the aircraft has a good record in IAF service. One Aviation Week report claimed that the shift took place following India’s rejection Dassault’s offer to avoid a competition, and shift the entire Mirage 2000 production line to India. According to that version of events, Dassault originally considered staying out of the competition entirely, but its CEO eventually calmed down.
If that version of events is true, then by 2006 the size of the opportunity, and the Rafale’s need for an export success, drew Dassault back in. According to India Press Trust, Chacks Edelstenne, CEO of Dassault Aviation, visited the Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh and The Deputy Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal AK Nangalia on Feb 21/06. He informed his audience that:
”...we are on the verge of closing the Mirage fighter assembly line and want to offer India a quantum jump in technology… Though India has not not floated the Request for Proposals (RFP), we have conveyed to India to supply 40 Rafale multi-mission fighters in single source deal.”
Ironicaly, in late 2008, Dassault personnel were quoted worrying that the MMRCA’s medium weight set of contenders would be uncompetitive, because of the price differential vs. lighter competitors like the F-16, JAS-39 Gripen, and MiG-29OVT. Had the Mirage 2000 remained in the competition, it would also have been placed in the lightweight performance and price categories.
Mirage 2000v5
(click to view full)
Media reports note that India’s decision-making speed may have had something to do with the Dassault switch, as company sources claimed that it would take at least 3-4 years for a contract to actually be signed with India. Given the pace of the MRCA competition thus far, and India’s procurement history, that estimate may be conservative. The word is that the French government thought that it would be too expensive to keep the Mirage production line running during that period, without additional export prospects.
Dassault has reportedly assured India that its extensive Mirage repair and servicing facilities set up by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at Bangalore would require only ‘limited modification’ to accommodate the Rafale, given its commonalities with the Mirage 2000s.
Which still leaves the question hanging: why the switch?
Dassault may be completely up-front about the officially stated reasons behind this choice. It may also have decided that the introduction of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, MiG-35, and changing requirements in the RFP make the Mirage a loser anyway, while boosting the Rafale’s chance of securing an export order that would be critical to its long-term future. By 2011, that analysis would be borne out in 20/20 hindsight, thanks to progress on India’s Tejas fighter, and the IAF’s push for aerodynamic performance over all other considerations.
Whatever the reasons, the withdrawal of the Mirage 2000 from the competition was official and final. The official RFP announcement specifically mentions Dassault’s Rafale instead.
In a related move, French engine maker Snecma, which is also bidding for DRDO’s joint collaboration project on the Tejas LCA’s Kaveri engines, reportedly offered to mount Indian-made Kaveri engines in Rafale fighters. The demise of the Kaveri engine project removed that option, but Snecma remains in negotiations to develop a successor engine that could offer the same sort of dual-platform benefit.

Appendix C – Additional Readings

  • Unofficial site, with an impressive array of information, press release archives, references, photos, and more.
  • Airpower Australia (Sept 22/09) – Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE: Assessing Russia’s First AESA“The potentially large size of the Indian order has seen Western and Russian bidders disclose remarkably large amounts of data…. Phazotron produced a special issue of their house journal Phazotron, which contains some very good technical papers by Phazotron engineers detailing the internals of the Zhuk-AE and its underlying design philosophy. This is the single biggest technical disclosure on any AESA design, globally, to date. This APA analysis is largely based upon this document…”
  • RIA Novosti (Sept 15/07) – Hard-hitting Russian fighter set to win Indian tender. Covers the MiG-35, aka. MiG-29OVT. Enumerates many of the plane’s changes and key characteristics, but like all Russian articles and corporate releases it tends to overstate at times.
  • Dassault Defense – Rafale


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