Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Saturday, January 8, 2011
The Indian Air Force Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Competition, commonly known as the MRCA Tender, is an ongoing competition to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. The Defence Ministry has allocated 42,000 crore (US$9.11 billion) for the purchase of these aircraft.
Six aircraft were bid for the order - the Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Mikoyan MiG-35 and the American F-16IN and F/A-18IN (a version of the Super Hornet). Up to now, Mikoyan and Dassault have been regular suppliers of aircraft for the Indian Air Force and in terms of transfers of technology, licensed production in India, personnel training, supply of spare parts, maintenance and upgrading.
IAF pilots and technicians are familiar with earlier aircraft from those two aircraft manufacturers, and would need minimal retraining. Infrastructural and logistical support for maintenance and spares would also be easier for these aircraft compared to the unfamiliar Gripen, Typhoon, F-16 and F/A-18.
On december 18 2010 The Times Of India quoted the IAF chief as saying that the "evaluation of the fighters has been finished and the matter is now with the defence ministry". He also said that "hopefully the deal will be inked by July in 2011".
Who has stolen the cheese from under others nose???
The Typhoon certainly is the highest performing aircraft in the competition. This is a result of its high cost and it being quite new in development. It has not yet proven itself but it has had enough number built to have most of its designed capabilities.
But it is also far and away the most expensive. The Indians though have a mostly unwarranted reverence for their former colonizers, and often covet British equipment simply for being British.
The Indians need a medium weight fighter that can be bought in quantity. They already have the Su-30MKI variants that easily fulfill the role of a high performance air superiority fighter.
If the Typhoon is also added to the fleet they will have significant overlap, and have difficulty maintaining fighter coverage due to high costs of both fighters.
The four nations using diplomatic leverage for the sale is going to come back to bite them down the rode if those planes ever need to be used in combat. China only needs to coerce one of the partners to block future sales to India.
The Mig-35s are very tempting as they have a low price, good capabilities, and a proven partner. Not only that but interoperability and familarity with other Mig aircrafts, give the Indians superb standardization and versatility. It doesn`t have proven AESA Radar for which IAF is looking for, and also I believe that Indians are intently looking to diversify its supplier of arms, which means the Russians will be left out.
The Rafale looks very good as the French will do just about anything for a big sale, and have impressive aeronautical technology. This makes the Rafale attractive for what it brings to the table as the Indians are insistent on technology transfer. Although like the other Europeans, are susceptible to coercion; as was proven by their turning their backs on Israel out of pressure.
The fighter itself is optimized for ground combat rather than air to air like the Typhoon. As the Indians already have a premier air to air fighter in the Flanker variant Su-30MKI, the Rafale would compliment the assets of the fleet rather well. And of course Naval variants could be bought to fly off of India's up and coming Carriers, adding an excellent capability and standardization.
The Gripen is well positioned in this competition but the Indians do not seem to be looking for the things the Gripen does particularly well. It would an excellent choice but I am guessing the Indians want to buy prestige along with their new fighter.
The Gripen is the smallest of the fighters competing and has a number of advantages. It is cheap, needs only small runways, can use most western munitions, is easy to maintain, and is optimized for ground attack. This would allow India to buy a greater number and have more sorties, availability, and fighter coverage.
But the version the Swedes are offering to India is still being developed (it is not the current variant in the Swedish inventory). This introduces an element of risk to this option.
The Gripen NG's engine is also the same engine that was selected to power India's indigenous fighter; Tejas. This would add to standardization and further reduce costs.
The Swedish government is aggressive in selling the Gripen, and often seeks to undercut their competition. I see them as being unbeatable on price. The Swedes do not do as much trade with China or Pakistan, have proven they will sell to less than admirable governments, and are willing to transfer technology.
Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The F-18 Super Hornet from the Americans has the same advantages as the Rafale and Mig-29 in that it is Carrier capable. Although the Indians did not specify this requirement, they are going to be using larger carriers soon and it would be prudent of them to buy this capability.
Aerodynamically and performance wise the F-18 lags behind most other modern fighters. But it makes up for this by being extremely versatile, reliable, and ubiquitous.
The US buys these in large batches and has done so for years, and it will require no development for the Indians. This makes the Super Hornet the most risk free of all the options.
Being the main fighter of the US Navy it can deploy a very capable and varied set of weapons, fuel tanks, and sensors. The Super Hornet out classes every other fighter by a wide margin in these categories, and only gives ground to the competition in raw performance.
Lockheed Martin F-16
The F-16 is the smallest fighter here except for the Gripen. It has been used all around the world and without a doubt has the most proven track record. It has made air to air victories more than once, and proved its self in war to many professionals all over the world.
As it is used all around the world the Indians will have more options than just the US for upgrades or maintenance, an important point as the Indians covet their independence.
The F-16 is less expensive than most and still has the air to air capabilities to be competitive. The F-16 has a solid reputation for being a smart and efficient choice for nations. This combination has made the F-16 popular the world over; which in turn further reduces its cost and increases versatility.
Like the F-18 it offers impressive versatility in munitions. But unlike the F-18, Rafale and Mig-29; it does not have carrier capabilities. And it also does not have the type of refueling that the Indians require, this is being developed though.
The US as a factor
The Indians see a buy from the Americans as a double edged sword. They want a powerful ally to help them with China (the Americans qualify), and to not bow to pressure from the Chinese (the Americans are strong enough to resist).
But they also want no restrictions on what they do or how they use the equipment they are buying, which the Americans are known to do. And technology transfer is a very important part of this competition, the US has traditionally been reluctant to share technology. It appears now that the Americans are relaxing some of their rules to accommodate them. Whether or not this will satisfy the Indians is unknown.