Saturday, 3 April 2010

Air Force gives Gripen fighter a second chance



by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
3rd April 2010

Sweden’s futuristic medium fighter, the Gripen NG, has been given a second chance in the US $11 billion contest to select a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force. The MoD has asked Gripen International, which last month failed to send the Gripen NG fighter for trials in India on the dates allotted by the IAF, to send the fighter for trials in the middle of May.

Business Standard had reported, on 9th March, that Gripen International had sent older Gripen-D fighters for trials because the Gripen NG was held back in Sweden for improvements for the Swedish Air Force. Technically, that was a violation of the terms of the competition.

But senior IAF officers have told Business Standard that they would not allow a legalistic interpretation of rules to narrow their options. Explains a senior air marshal who is involved in the decision-making, “We have a time window until the middle of this year, during which each of the six fighters in the tender are undergoing three stages of trials and inspections. As long as the Gripen NG is ready for trials within that period, we will evaluate the aircraft. All six vendors will have a level-playing field.”

Besides the Gripen NG, the other fighters being evaluated by the IAF are: the F/A-18 Super Hornet; the F-16IN Super Viper; the Dassault Rafale; the Eurofighter Typhoon; and the MiG-35. While all but the MiG-35 are already in service, the Gripen NG is still under development. Just a single “demonstrator” aircraft has been built to prove its capabilities. Next year, Gripen will build the first Gripen NG prototype.

Gripen International has welcomed the MoD’s decision. Gripen’s India campaign head, Eddy de la Motte, told Business Standard, “Our plan was always to bring the (Gripen NG) demonstrator to India. The Swedish government’s sudden tasking is being completed right now. We will soon be ready to go to India and we will provide the IAF with maximum opportunity to evaluate the fighter.”

The first of these opportunities will come next week, when an IAF team travels to Sweden to evaluate the Gripen’s firing of a “Beyond Visual Range” air-to-air missile. It is learned that Gripen International will make the Gripen NG demonstrator available to IAF pilots, should they wish to fly it in Sweden next week. If the IAF accepts the offer, it will be the first time an Indian pilot flies the Gripen NG, albeit with a Swedish “safety pilot” in the rear cockpit.

While Gripen International expresses confidence in their fighter, it now faces trials in conditions hotter (and, therefore, more unfavourable) than all the other contenders. IAF sources reveal that the Gripen-D performed well in last month’s trials; despite that, the Gripen NG will be put through the full battery of tests, including high altitude testing in Ladakh.

The Gripen NG is significantly more capable than the Gripen D. It has a more powerful GE-414 engine; it carries more fuel and, therefore, has greater range; and, with 10 hard points for weaponry, the Gripen NG has extra teeth. It will also come with a new AESA radar, electronic warfare equipment, and upgraded avionics.

Senior IAF officers, while happy with these features, also highlight the Gripen NG’s downside: a high level of US electronics, weaponry, and the GE-414 engine. And the F-16IN and the Gripen NG are the only two single-engine aircraft in the contest, which places them at a disadvantage in terms of reliability.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good for the IAF. Foreclosing any option at this stage would not be in the best interests of the service or the nation.

Anonymous said...

BUt the F-16 has a good record of not crashing. Why is the single-engine suddenly considered potentially unsafe? Do the conditions in India suddenly increase the risks associated with a single-engine aircraft?

Anonymous said...

Good, now at least no one will have an issue on what is getting compared and I do hope that the airforce will extend the same courtesy to other aircraft in contention, particularly the Russians who havent really been able to show the MiG-35

However, the article is a little strange. From what you say, there is no Gripen NG...and that the protoype happens next year. So how could the NG come for trials is not really very clear.

From your piece, there is just a Gripen Demo which is a technology test bed. Therefore, it can really not be an issue whether the aircraft can be tested since it is not a flying prototype. Second, it is weird that we want a futuristic aircraft that is "in service" and when the "in service" aircraft is used, it is called the older version. Is there a Gripen verison between the C&D and the Demo? Dont think so.

Also, don't understand this whole 'legalistic' business. I think the evals are taking place with the IAF checking out all in development technologies and doing so by travelling to labs as well. Finally, there is a very strange take on the single engine version. That sounds very odd. After all the original M-MRCA was meant to be a single engine fighter because we have such a lovely monster in the Su-30.

But you are bang on the button on the US technology bit. Does the RFP, incidentally, ask for the flexibility to 'Europeanize' the aircraft, particularly the Engine?

If the Gripen wins, we will have a Swede plane with an American engine, an English-Italian radar, Israeli missiles and will fly in combination with the Su-30. Wow!

gururaj said...

There are rumours(?) doing the round - that gripen D did very well at LEH!! is it true Ajai sir?? if true that means gripen NG will do even better with a better engine it sports as of now.

what is your take of its chances in MRCA considering it has too many foreign components as alluded to in your report?? also will it not impinge on our own LCA if inducted??

also it is reported 4 out five others did badly at LEH. which is the other one which did well?? any info on that?

hope you clarify those issues.

thanks again for the detailed article.

also sir, you have been rocking these days!!! great work.

Anonymous said...

when is IAF going to start eliminating contenders? If they keep all 6 of them in race to the end, the competition is going to end in a cat fight with alligations flying in all directions against the winning contender. There should be no more than 2 or 3 contenders left standing when the winner is announced.

LeT mE tHiNk said...

IAF ppl looks really interseted in Gripen NG

joydeep ghosh said...

It is evident that Gripen D has performed well. Hope it was the one that did well in Leh. Looks like Gripen NG will win this MOAD.

@ anonymous 12:03

boss this will be TD-1 and PV-1 will be out next year. This happens with all aircrafts. Check LCA development. As for the massive ameican content we can what we did with Su-30.