Tuesday, 9 March 2010

MMRCA Thunderbolt: $11 billion in the balance, a no-show by the Gripen fighter

The Gripen fighters that will arrive in Bangalore today for flight trials are not the Gripen NG that the IAF has been offered. Instead, two Gripen-D fighters have reached Bangalore

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Mar 2010

The high-voltage $11 billion contest to sell India 126 Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MMRCA) is reaching the end of the trials phase in a blaze of potential controversy. Today, the last of the six contenders being evaluated by the Indian Air Force --- the Swedish Gripen --- will fly into Bangalore for trials. But Business Standard has learned that the fighters that will touch down are not the ones that Gripen International has offered: the JAS-39IN Gripen NG. Instead, two older-model Gripen-D fighters will arrive.

The Gripen NG, a light, agile, ultra-modern fighter built by Swedish aerospace giant Saab, 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 that is being offered must be the one that comes for trials, will delight its rivals --- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Eurofighter and MiG --- since Gripen is now vulnerable to disqualification.

The arrival of the Gripen-D instead of the Gripen NG has a simple cause: 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.

Confirming these developments, Gripen International’s Director India, Eddy de la Motte, told Business Standard, “The Gripen NG prototype cannot come just yet to India as it is required in Sweden for testing and evaluation by the Swedish Air Force which is interested in buying the fighter. Indian pilots have not yet flown the Gripen NG, but we will make sure that they get an opportunity at the very earliest.”

Sources close to the Gripen campaign say that IAF pilots will be offered a chance to fly the Gripen NG during a visit to Sweden from 6th to 10th April. Gripen International will also ask for fresh dates for bringing the Gripen NG to India for trials.

Even without having flown the Gripen NG prototype, IAF pilots have been extremely impressed by the fighter’s capabilities. Besides superb avionics and superior flight performance, they say the Gripen NG can land on an 800-metre stretch of highway; and then refuel, rearm and take-off within 10 minutes. This allows each Gripen NG to fly far more sorties per day than any other aircraft today.

The IAF pilots who have visited the Gripen simulators in Sweden have also been impressed by its electronic warfare capabilities and by the training facilities on offer.

The Swedish MoD’s unexpected refusal to allow the Gripen NG to India for trials has blown the race wide open. From a clear front-runner in the eyes of the IAF, the Gripen NG’s very participation in trials now depends upon a decision to be taken by the IAF and the Indian MoD.


AK said...

If Gripen NG can't even fly in Sweden, what is the gurantee that it will be able to fly in India. It is clear the Gripen has a long way before it even becomes air worthy. No worth the wait for IAF which needs the new a/c urgently. Same ole, sameole.

joydeep ghosh said...

I feel something 'Daal Mein Kala'.

By the way my question is,

Q1. Is it possible to bring a aircraft in one part of trail and bring another at another part of trail.

Q2. If Gripen is allowed to do so, will it hamper the evaluation as you said IAF pilots havnt flown the Gripen NG yet.

Q3. Gripen NG is an upgrade over Gripen D or a very different aircraft.

Daveil said...

The toss up is going to be difficult.. does India wait for an aircraft that will be well ahead of its competition when it gets inducted or does it just go by whats on offer and flying. Clearly the Swedes are not helping their case. It takes a fair amount of geekiness not to turn up with the aircraft when they are clear when they needed it. But the MoD and IAF clearly want to do the right thing... but will that help?

Daveil said...

So that brings the race down to who if Gripen was the clear front runner?

Anonymous said...

Actually, if Brazil can shortlist the Gripen demo without flying it, why cant the IAF?

Anonymous said...

Our future will still depend on the LCA on not on any other foreign system.

Anonymous said...

If this is the case with Gripen NG, then it would be even more ridiculous when Mig-29 is going to fly for Mig-35, as Mig-35 would not be ready till 2012-14.

Anonymous said...

Was it a certification issue that did not allow the Gripen NG from coming to India ?

Anonymous said...

I believe that Brazil is offered "normal" Gripen, not the proto NG version

Regarding the problem faced by Gripen different configurations I thought that DPP is crystal clear regarding this kind of situation ?

Anonymous said...

Clear front runner ? I thought that Eurofighter is leading the race ? Or any of the other 4 competitors ? Let IAF experts propose a shortlist based on real capabilities of the planes. Too much buzz around this competition...

Anonymous said...

If the IAF gets an oppertunity to fly NG in april and the same can then be tested in India,then there is no harm in waiting for it.

Anonymous said...

May be the F414 engine is dust and sand susceptible unlike the RM12 engine of Gripen-D. They followed what happened to SH at Jaisalmer.

Rahul said...

I think its all over for Gripen because D and NG are aerodynamically different and competition in this mega deal doesn't offers second chance.

Anonymous @ 9 March 2010 09:50
Because IAF have options as well as clause in the tender doesn't allow this kind of irregularities e.g eurocopter Fennec deal was cancelled just because eurocopter had fielded a different version.

Anonymous said...

Brazil has been offered the NG and in fact it was meant to be the first customer, even before the Swedish Airforce. But with the delays in Brazil, the Swedish Airforce has come forward. However, that is beside the point. Question is how did the Brazilian airforce choose a NG by seeing the demo over an existing F-18 and Rafale... mind you the Brazilian government has not. Issue is that is the Brazilian airforce methods good enough for India. On the other hand, will this no show finally tip the balance for Rafale in Brazil because the government of Brazil with Lula safely say that the Gripen does not exist! The plot thickens.

Anonymous said...

Is the Gripen the only one defaulting on this requirement? I don't think the IAF tested the F-16IN in the promised configuration. The Mig-35 is also not quite ready. It definitely does not have it's AESA radar ready. Shouldn't all three aircraft face disqualification?

Anonymous said...

quit crapping about the Gripen NG.

IAF liked the initial version itself, and that version set the benchmark for all participants in the MRCA tender.

The NG version is a highly tweaked version.

As regards its similarity with the LCA Mark II, the Gripen NG will be ready later this year, LCA mark II is still on the drawing board.

Tough choice for the IAF to make. If it goes with the NG, it stands accused of not promoting domestic products, if it waits for the mark II LCA, that is going to take 3-4-5 years to materialize.

Gagan said...

Whatever else the MOD does wrt the MRCA and the Light Helo tenders, it had better chalk out a plan to deal with the immediate aftermath of the winner being announced.

The losing parties are sure to move the court and allege irregularities, and try to obtain a stay order of some sort between the time that the winner is announced and the deal is signed.

MOD and GoI needs to ensure that the MRCA reaching the IAF airbases is not delayed because of legal hassles.

Anonymous said...

Isnt this bordering on the same lines as the competition for the Light Utility helicopter where EADS sent a civilian version of the A550C3 Fennec insted of the military, won the competition and got disqualified when someone (Bell) pointed this out to the MoD. Looks like the MMRCA is heading the same controvercial way

Anonymous said...

Go for the Eurofighter typhoon. Make MRCA acquisition a package deal with mmrca deal as the core/central deal and EADS consulting for Tejas, ToT such as SC blades etc as auxillary deals linked with core deal. Then look at the overall package deal. Those who don't offer ToT/Consulting will be out. Transfer the budget overshoot of Typhoon to the ToT and Consulting costs.

Gagan said...

WRT the Gripen.

This specifically is one aircraft that India must ensure does not fall into the hands of the challangers to India.

Amongst the MRCA competitors, the pakistanis have the block 52 F-16s. The F-16 IN has an AESA radar and some upgrades. Pakistan will probably never get its hands on that. The other MRCA contenders are either too expensive for the PAF (Eurofighter, Rafale) or won't be given to it (F-18, Mig-35).

The Gripen stands out as a leading edge tech development that just might end up with the pakistanis, specially if the chinese decide to finance the pakistanis to procure the aircraft with TOT.

This tech must not fall in the hands of India's challengers.

Rahul said...

Chineese financing for the procurement of JAS-39 for PAF. Why would Chineese do that? Instead they will try to push more J-10 into TSP-AF throat.

Even winning of JAS-39NG can not guarantee that SAAB will not offer NG to PAF in future.

joydeep ghosh said...

@ Gagan & Rahul

Calm down. There is no need to panic. I just figured out that even the Typhoon that flew in trails lacked some important subsystems as promised in their RFI.

Well if the F-16 that flew in trails also didnt come with promised system.

Does that mean that the expensive planes like Rafale and F-18, F-16, Typhoon, Gripen are out of the race and we will have to buy an elephant like Mig 35 from Russia.

No. I believe its not just about geopolitical compulsions but also about the need to justify such huge expenditure on a dud plane.

So better keep your finger crossed and wait for another 6-9 months. The results will be out by then.

BadIndian said...

Ive got the solution to this whole mess.

There is no competition. Because of the new F-16 deliveries to Pakistan, India will choose the F-18 because if provoked into a war, the US weapons supplied with the better f-18 will win the war just with this award.

In the mean time the new fighter work will start, with information gathered from the competition. Being slow does pay off in this case.

Anonymous said...

To BadIndian:
Pakistani F-16 vs Indian F-18 ? Come one, the US will rather put both countries under embargo. US equipment can be fine if you don't intend to use it...
To Joydeep Ghosh : wise comment !

Abhiman said...

Mr. Shukla, even if SAAB would've sent the NG prototype to India, overall it is very unjustified on the part of the IAF to be entertaining untested prototypes from foreign countries, whereas it gives the excuse of "unproven machine" vis-a-vis Tejas before giving more firm orders. MiG-35, Gripen-NG, F-16 IN are ALL untested prototypes, cobbled together solely for the Indian MRCA competition.

Not only that, it is SHOCKING to note that the IAF considers the Gripen-D as an MRCA worthy, whereas the current Tejas Mk.1 is not considered MRCA-capable !! This, despite the fact that both fighters are matched neck-to-neck in empty-weight, engine thrust,payload, fuel, combat range, etc. The IAF's hypocrisy is glaringly visible in this example. People may argue that it's the NG that will eventually compete in the MRCA tender, but it must be noted that the Tejas Mk.2 is also under development which will also have a much more powerful engine, (>95 kN), more weapons, and more fuel. It will match the Gripen-NG and F-16 C in range-payload specs.

Moreover, the Tejas Mk.2 will be introduced in the 2013-14 timeframe, which is around the same time that the first of the MRCA contenders start induction in the IAF. Besides, what is the guarantee that the prototypes like Gripen-NG will get the necessary clearances and certifications from their own air forces, before being evaluated by the IAF ? This will push their induction in the IAF even further by 2015-16 or so !

Thus, there is no plausible reason by the IAF to reject Tejas Mk.2 in favour of Gripen-NG or other foreign experimental prototypes. It is a MONUMENTAL SHAME, that despite having a modern 4+ fighter jet in the final stages of development, the IAF chooses to entertain foreign prototypes that too are not fully certified to fly out of their own nations.

pavan said...

Frankly the gripin looks like a good a/c it has by far the most to offer in terms of life cycle cost and economy it can land and take of in highways which no a/c can do and the IAF pilots were most impressed with it in sweden the only thing lacking is an AESA radar and avionics which is waiting for approval from swidish air force but the only catch is it must show before the technical evaluation is complete or it is good bye gripin

Anonymous said...

How does a no show from Gipen NG affect its chances so much?

India ended up buying Su-30 MKIs even without a protoype and I don't think they're regretting it.

Anonymous said...

No we won't let yanks play double games supplying both India and Pak, selling something first to Pak and thus getting Indians to spend more money buying something marginally superior from same yanks. No, no if they are selling to pak then let them sell to pak only, all on aid money ofcourse.

Ravi said...


Can you confirm whether more Arjuns will be ordered or not?

Many thanks.

devindra sethi said...

In the recent past in a similar situation an overseas vendor brought equipment for trials which were below NSQR.The Navy sent them packing.NO FUSS NO REQUESTS WERE ENTERTAINED.The IAF should follow this precedence.

ArjunTankFan said...


Livefist is reporting that the Army has finally capped the order to 124 Arjun Tanks. I really had some hope after reading your articles.

Is there any truth in the Livefist article (no other source print or TV has broken the news)?


Marcus said...

It will be F-16 that will be chosen, mark my words. It is reliable, easy to maintain, all bugs have been fixed and in the red flag it dominated the su-30 in 1-on-1 counters. Oh it will come with proven asea and the best BVR/A2G systems out there.

LCA is a dead donkey, it should have already entered service many years ago. It can't even be tested properly, to its full potential. They are afraid that it will crash and that will be the end of it. IAF are aware of this and are not buying it.

joydeep ghosh said...

@ Marcus

how can you be so sure of F-16 winning. wait for few months who ever wins will go home all laughing money bags so why worry.

Are the US companies short on orders, that they need a huge order like this, surely they have lots of orders. Let other co. win it.

By the way have you ever been to India, if not I dont think its right for you to comment on ADA (developer of LCA)abilities.


NJS said...

Ajay , their is some confusing in nos of su30 mki , 42 / 50 nos which planned to purchase newly from russia , could you tell when it will be inked .
Does india has any plan to go for S-400 / Pac 3 as per your knowledge .

Anonymous said...

If LCA can't be tested with a pilot for extreme manouevers why can't they put some pre-programmed robot inside for the tight turning manouever or other manouevers? Already auto-pilots doing landing and take-off without pilots are common.
If not pre-programmed then it could be remotely piloted like the UAVs.

Jeet Hormuz said...

@ Abhiman,

apropos your little rant, I would like to submit the following : (and BTW, before the accusations start, I am a big fan of the Tejas, but like to think am rooted in reality)

"MiG-35, Gripen-NG, F-16 IN are ALL untested prototypes, cobbled together solely for the Indian MRCA competition."

All the aircraft you have mentioned are based on well proven in-service fighters, some of which are actually reaching the END of their manufacturing life cycle, in contrast to the Tejas.

"This, despite the fact that both fighters are matched neck-to-neck in empty-weight, engine thrust,payload, fuel, combat range, etc".

If you do your research right, you will observe that the Gripen is way ahead in all performance parameters as compared to the Tejas. While the Mk2 is expected to increase spot performance slightly with the new engine, there is little doubt that this will be at the expense of mission performance.

"Moreover, the Tejas Mk.2 will be introduced in the 2013-14 timeframe, which is around the same time that the first of the MRCA contenders start induction in the IAF"

That is really really optimistic. We are yet to see the Tejas Mk 2 move onto, let alone off, the drawing board. From there to induction in 2013-2014 is a leap of faith. Lets see IOC and FOC of the Mk1 first.

I would like to reiterate that I fully support the Tejas programme, but please spare a thought for our gallant fighter pilots and maintainers who are daily observing their force capability erode below their feet because of false promises and tardy bureaucratic process.

No offence, but wake up.

Abhiman said...

Jeet Hormuz, I disagree with your views, as they are inaccurate and not based on facts or technical specifications. Following is a point-by-point reply :-

"All the aircraft you have mentioned are based on well proven in-service fighters, some of which are actually reaching the END of their manufacturing life cycle, in contrast to the Tejas."

By the time Tejas Mk.2 is introduced, a full squadron of Tejas Mk.1 would have completed a few years of frontline service in the IAF, and obtained IoC also. At that timeframe, i.e. 2014-15 there would not be any excuse for the IAF to reject a Tejas Mk.2 in favour of an equally experimental MiG-35, or F-16-IN or Gripen-NG.

In fact, one of the main excuses given for importing the MRCA so expensively is the so-called "delay" in Tejas programme. Now, when the estimated timeframes of Tejas Mk.2 and MRCA are matched, why entertain the MRCA at all ?"

"If you do your research right, you will observe that the Gripen is way ahead in all performance parameters as compared to the Tejas. While the Mk2 is expected to increase spot performance slightly with the new engine, there is little doubt that this will be at the expense of mission performance. "

The above is completely inaccurate. Please take the trouble of comparing the specs of Gripen-D, that the IAF is entertaining as a potential MRCA candidate, and the Tejas Mk.1. Both have :- 8 hardpoints for weapons, empty weight of 6.5 tons, GE-F404 engine variants of (in fact, Tejas' engine has more thrust), similar internal fuel. So, range-payload specs are matched.

As regards avionics, both have the Israeli Litening target pod, RWR, jammers, HMDS, etc. In fact, Tejas employs all of Su-30 MKI's avionics. Besides, Tejas' FBW is full-digital quadruplex, whereas Gripen has a triplex-FBW with analog backup (the point being that the latter is a bit primitive).

Coming to Tejas Mk.2 vis-a-vis the elusive Gripen-NG, both are slated to have a >95 kN engine, and more weapon-stations. Both will have a redesigned undercarriage to reduce weight and allow more fuel storage, besides allowing 1 or 2 more weapon-stations under the fuselage.

"That is really really optimistic. We are yet to see the Tejas Mk 2 move onto, let alone off, the drawing board. From there to induction in 2013-2014 is a leap of faith. Lets see IOC and FOC of the Mk1 first."

The timeframe of 2013-14 was given by none other than ADA director himself. GE and Eurojet have already submitted their bid in Dec. 2009. Given the past record of "feet dragging" over airplanes like Hawk (18 years), MRCA RFP (9 years), it is unlikely that the first lot of MRCAs will arrive anytime before 2015-16. This is even more exacerbated by the experimental nature of Gripen-NG, MiG-35 and F-16 IN, which are not reportedly certified in their own countries yet ! Add geopolitics to the "cauldron", and the MRCA saga can easily be seen extended to 2015.

By that time, Tejas Mk.2 will have been up and ready since a few years already. That is enough for the IAF to consider it as an MRCA and multirole force-multplier.

I fail to understand the reasoning given to purchase MRCA despite the fact that the Tejas is in the FINAL laps of development. As another example, a genius on Bharat-Rakshak commented that India must consider purchasing the Russian S-400, because the DRDO's PAD/AAD is still 2 years away from completion !! Arey, as though we will get the S-400 by the weekend if the deal is signed with the visiting Mr. Putin on Monday !

ANSMOR said...

The gripen will not the the best choice for the iaf.
the typhoon has much better thrust:weight, thrust, payload, and is better in both wvr and bvr.

morover with the typhooon, assembly lines can be set up in india