DUEL OVER DELHI: Two of the six fighters competing for the Indian US $11 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract
Above: A Lockheed Martin F-16 from the Vermont National Guard;
Left: A Dassault Rafale fighter flying over desert scrubland
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th July 09
The gloves are off in the competition to sell India 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for an estimated Rs 50,000 crore. Two days after Business Standard reported on the sudden replacement of Lockheed Martin India’s CEO, Lockheed’s French rival, Dassault Aviation — whose Rafale fighter is pitched against Lockheed Martin’s F-16 IN in the MMRCA tender — is contemplating asking the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) to disqualify Lockheed Martin from the tender. The reason: sources in Dassault allege that Lockheed Martin has illegally obtained access to classified documents relating to the competition.
Approached for details of Dassault’s decision, the company’s Indian representative, Pusina Rao, told Business Standard over the telephone from Paris, “Dassault executives are in discussions and will soon reach a final decision on what action it will initiate against Lockheed Martin. In any case, the French government will have the final word, since there are political repercussions involved.”
Rao declined to comment on how long it would take for Paris to approach the Indian MoD for action against Lockheed Martin.
Sources close to the MMRCA contract point out that tension has been growing between Dassault and Lockheed Martin since the end of 2008, when the Indian media reported that Dassault had been eliminated from the MMRCA contract because it had not fulfilled some of the technical requirements spelt out in the Indian tender. Weeks after the report — and apparently after French President Nikolas Sarkozy spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the phone — it was announced that Dassault was very much in contention.
But Dassault believed that Lockheed Martin was responsible for those reports. Now, Dassault is determined to get back at Lockheed Martin, citing charges of corruption in clear violation of the guidelines in India’s Defence Procurement Policy-2008 (DPP-2008).
On Tuesday, reporting on Lockheed’s India CEO, Ambassador Douglas A Hartwick’s sudden recall to the US without the appointment of a replacement, Business Standard had quoted Lockheed Martin’s Asia Chief, Rick Kirkland, as saying that while Lockheed Martin had never possessed classified Indian procurement documents, the company’s US headquarters had written to the MoD in New Delhi seeking clarification over two “unclassified files” that had found their way into Lockheed’s possession.
The MMRCA competition is growing increasingly heated, with all six competitors — Lockheed Martin; Boeing; Dassault; Grippen; MiG; and Eurofighter — scheduled to produce their aircraft for flight testing by the Indian Air Force, turn by turn, starting this month.