Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Scrap the MMRCA: buy US F-35s

The F-35 Lightening II fighter undergoing its flight trial programme. Israel has just bought 20 F-35s under the US Foreign Military Sales programme, with options for another 75 (25 + 25 + 25)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Oct 10

Given the global buzz around the Indian Air Force’s ongoing US $10 billion procurement of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), my suggestion to scrap the process and, instead, go in for a straight buy of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightening II fighters is admittedly radical. But consider this: when the F-35 enters service, a couple of years from now, it will comfortably outclass every one of the six fighters that the IAF is currently evaluating. Thereafter, through the entire 30-40 year service life of the selected MMRCA, the IAF will fly a second rung fighter when it could have gotten the best.

The six fighters that the IAF has flight tested over the last year --- Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper; Dassault’s Rafale; the Russian MiG-35; the Swedish Saab Gripen NG; and the Eurofighter --- are categorized, even by their manufacturers, as 4th Generation fighters. In contrast, the F-35 is globally acknowledged as a 5th Generation fighter. The key to its superiority is stealth, making it effectively invisible to radar at longer ranges. This is a battle-winning advantage in aerial combat, where radars are the only way of “seeing” the enemy; the F-35 will detect enemy fighters and launch missiles at them, well before being detected. While attacking ground targets in enemy territory, the F-35 will remain undetected until it is too late to react. Unsurprisingly, each 5th Generation fighter is the battlefield equivalent of 3-4 previous generation aircraft.

Since the IAF knows all this, why is the F-35 not in the MMRCA contest? Because, while framing the specifications for the 126-fighter tender in 2003, the IAF set the bar so low that the F-35 was overqualified. The MoD, still nursing a hangover from the Tehelka sting expose, wanted to avoid potential controversy by having several vendors competing for the MMRCA order. Had the IAF been allowed to keep the long-term in mind, and to demand 5th Generation capabilities, only the F-35 would have met the tender requirement. With that single-vendor situation an MoD bugaboo, the IAF’s specifications were dumbed down to bring in a clutch of 4th Generation fighters.

When Lockheed Martin --- one of the four vendors that received inquiries from the IAF in 2003-04 --- studied the requirement, they offered the F-16 Super Viper, which they estimated met India’s requirements. Offering the overqualified, and pricier, F-35 made little business sense: India’s procurement rules give no credit for exceeding the tender requirements. The Defence Procurement Procedure mandates that the cheapest of the vendors that meet the technical requirements automatically wins a contract.

Price was just one reason for offering the F-16. With the F-35’s prototype not even having flown then (it first flew in 2006), Lockheed Martin knew that the F-35 would not be available for flight-testing in the timeframe that the IAF wanted. Senior IAF officers believe that Lockheed Martin made a strategic decision: to field the F-16 in the MMRCA competition; and later offer the F-35 as a 5th Generation fighter, a logical follow-on to the F-16. But that offer (which officials confirm was made to the IAF later) was a non-starter: India had decided to partner Russia in jointly developing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA).

Today, much has changed. The F-35 programme has moved into its production phase and will be flying operationally soon. Senior Lockheed Martin officials confirm that the US is more than keen to sell India the F-35. Meanwhile, a more confident MoD has demonstrated --- through its single-vendor purchases of the C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft --- that it has the political courage to buy American systems when they clearly outclass the competition.

Senior IAF officers, serving and retired, make two arguments against the F-35. Accepting that the F-35 far outclasses the other MMRCA contenders, they apprehend that scrapping the MMRCA purchase risks losing several years that the MoD will surely take for fresh evaluations and financial sanctions for buying the F-35.

This logic does injustice to the MoD, which has demonstrated in the C-130J and C-17 procurements that it is capable of acting decisively. Having shed its post-Kargil, Pakistan-centric mindset, and focusing on building credible offensive-defence capabilities against China, surely the MoD will not spend $10 billion on fighters that will be outclassed with the inevitable appearance of Chinese 5th Generation fighters over the Himalayas.

The other IAF concern is that, with the F-35 still under development, there is little clarity on when it will become available or on what terms. But the announcement last week of Israel’s purchase of 20 F-35s (with another 75 likely to follow) has dispelled much of the mist. Israel, which is not even one of the nine countries that funded the F-35 development, will be buying the fighters for US $96 million each under the Foreign Military Sales programme, for not much more than the Rafale’s and Eurofighter’s estimated cost. Israel will get its F-35s between 2015-2017; several of the MMRCA contenders will need as long.

Significantly, defence analysts believe that Israel has obtained Washington’s okay to integrate a variety of Israeli sensors and weaponry onto the F-35. The US has long resisted this since it involves passing on software source codes to the Israelis. With an order of 126-200 fighters, India too could demand this important concession.

Given India’s deteriorating security environment, it must build a 5th Generation air force, one that will remain the pre-eminent power in South Asia the next two decades. The 5th Generation heavy fighter already in the works, in partnership with Russia, will only enter service towards the end of the decade. In the medium fighter segment, a 5th Generation fighter is as essential, with strategic balance maintained by importing from the US. For obvious political reasons, the initiative to scrap the MMRCA and go in for the F-35 must come from the IAF; and the MoD must assure them of minimal delay.


Anonymous said...

Don't you think this will jeopardize the Advanced medium combat aircraft all together and LCA to some extent. Lets take this scenario for example: We buy F-35, the first squadron of F-35I will be in India no sooner than 2022 and by then PAK FA will be in final phase. Then WHY DO YOU NEED LCA and AMCA? This in turn will KILL our local aeronautics industry for a foreseeable future (I say no future at all). All the efforts, and time we put in to get the LCA will go to waters. This will also KILL the interest LCA TEJAS has brought to young minds. Kids today talk about aeronautics. When I did engineering(I am 30 now) in Bangalore, I heard only Software. So, Buying F-35 supplanting AMCA is a very dangerous move. Perhaps we can buy for NAVY, never ever for airforce! That is my take.

Hope we have a decent debate on this.

Anonymous said...

Shukla Ji, for most of desis the whole article may sound a bit too much siding towards Americans.
What would happen to MCA if we select F-35 for MRCA?? As far as i am concerned IAF with euro canards still would have a need to pursue MCA and with the technolgy that we get with MRCA ToT, HAL can accomplish the task of making one. And this option is better than trying to beg Americans to relax their laws to allow us to get the source code.

Anonymous said...

A general comment on website usability. Would you consider changing the background on the website to a lighter color? Lighter backgrounds with darker (black?) letters are always easier to read. I am sure quite a few of your regulars will find it easier on their eyes. Sorry for posting this as a comment on this post..

Richin said...

Spot on! I am no defense analyst... but it always seemed like a rather logical thing - to pick the f35 over all the other 4g contenders; and to proponents of the "delay in delivery theorists", pretty please, defense planning can’t be stalled due to a 4 year delay when we ought to think about 40 years from now... besides, the way India negotiates contracts, a 4-5 year delay sounds rather small compared to the decades that MOD is generally famous for...

Anonymous said...

Plz for god Shake ajay sir don't post sumthing as naive as this one.you earnd so much respect with your earlier post bt this mite make shaky deal.. You should atleast knew that israel did contribute money for development for F 35 .. And indian air force cant wait for 20years when it turn comes aftr all the other contributors get their order. Rafale and Ef can knock down F 35 withot much of pain.. Remember rafale and Ef are 4.75generation even withot AESA RADAR ..AND you forget bot Our indegenious AMCA TO mention too...hope u get my point and u betta scrap this article.

Bhanja said...

Ajai-ji, your argument makes some sense in the technical/capabilities realm, but are we ready politically to yoke our capabilities so fundamentally to the US? Can we ensure that those capabilities are available to us if our interests diverge from those of the US in the future? This is also an issue with buying F/A-18s and F-16s, but has to be grappled with.

Also I'd like to see how this is politically salable through the Ministry of Finance and National Advisory Council. It's a darned expensive aircraft, and the MRTT (and possibly C-17) episodes show that MoD does not have a carte blanche to spend. And you sure won't get a bargain in a single vendor situation.

Anonymous said...

So you are assuming that US will be ready to give us F-35 without signing CISMOA & BECA.

US senate at any given time can reverse the sale of such aircrafts to India. US can never be a true strategic partner, if you feel otherwise then I don’t agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Ajai, there are many issues with F-35. Either we become an ally of the U.S fighting for the U.S for spanky new shiny toys or stay on course and be an Independent nation that offers fifth Generation and even sixth Generation of fighters to other friendly countries of India. This is the long term plan. It's painful but still this is the term that India should follow. Don't get into short term thinking. The MMRCA is cheap replacement for the Migs before the LCA-1,II arrives. Don't see it with any other lens. The final objective must be to have only two version of aircraft in the Indian airforce. The PAK-FA and the AMCA. These two must replace everything else from Migs to Sukhois and Eurofighters. Then the follow on version can be the XCA or Xtreme combat aircrft ;) all indigenous that's revolutionary and no other country can field or has fielded. That's how our planning and execution should be rather than paying others to run their industry and their power. Time for India to project power in its own ways.

SRIVAN said...

The F35 is still to get out of testing phase. It's price is still rising and is now estimated at over Us $ 112 million for a bare aircraft ( US $ 96 million for a plane without engine - There is separate contract for engine) without any weapons and other related equipment.

The cost of Israeli F35 is notional as the entire funding comes from the US taxpayer (Military aid budgeted by US govt for Israel). Hence, the actual cost doesn't matter to Israel.

The 20 aircraft will have no Israeli equipment as it would have pushed cost up further.

Until now US is the largest buyer for F35. However, these are "mistake" jets as the only 2 % of the full envelope of the aircraft is done.

The LRIP IV contract between the US Govt and LM will give the actual price of jet (without engine and other required accessories as these are US Govt provided).

Till date the F35 is more of a jobs program for the industry than a proper fighting weapon.

Please refer to http://www.ausairpower.net/ and http://ericpalmer.wordpress.com/ for more information.

I have been following your blog closely. This article is clearly the worst cut-and paste job rather than a journalistic write-up.


Anonymous said...

Radical article. I love your blog but Sorry..., this time I dont agree with this view point.

F-35 may contribiute to IAF strength, but will not contribute in any way to Indian aeronautics...which is a pre-requisite for the MMRCA program.

In case the PAK-FA and AMCA come a non-starter, the Amercians will still sell us the F-35...on fast track too.

Spirit of Exuberance said...

Dear Mr. Shukla,

You are right in your words that our MMRCA winner will be outclassed by the [soon to be operational] F-35. Lot of countries will be flying it by 2017. But by that time we will have FGFA [Indian version] in sky. Since all the assignment of IAF cannot be assigned to FGFA, Su30MKI or LCA Tejas. I am sure IAF might have a clear road map for operational requirements of MMRCA winner. Another point is that, the normal deals like the C130J and P8I, where USG want us to sign hell of agreements like CISMOA, LSA, BECA, etc and we are reluctant to it.
Another aim of the MMRCA deal is to get TOT [Don’t know how much we will be offered and how much we will absorb] and support Indian aviation sector. With F35 [or F16 or F18], the target will not be achieved.
With Israel, US have all together a new level of partnership as far as technology is concerned. Getting the USG bent to change hardware [Indian versions /Israeli version on F35] for a deal of 12 Billion $ is very difficult.
But your statement that we can get fifth generation aircraft at the price of a fourth generation aircraft is very true.

Anonymous said...

irstly the F-35 has a huge order book and even the US has not replaced its fighters with F-35. On top of it there is UK, Israel, NATO, Australia and Japan who are waiting for F-35s. Even if India orders immediately it may take atleast 2020 to get the first batch which is too much of a delay.

Secondly, the F-35 will cost $200 million a piece and will be too much. 126 aircraft will be $25 Billion which is way too much. IMHO numbers are as important as quality. It is better to go with Eurofighter.

Thirdly, the payload of F-35 is limited. When you have air superiority against pakistan it is better to bomb the living hell out of them before they use the nukes. F-35 may not be too suited for it.

Last and not the least we have already signed up for FGFA which is cheaper and outperforms the F-35. We also have plans for AMCA which will be inducted latest by 2025.

Anonymous said...

Ajai, the Rafale is the best bet for the Indian air force due to may advantages. Some of the technologies like AESA radars are being tested right now and will be avilable by 2012. Already it's two months from 2011. So one year is not that big a time when we compare the deal. The signing can be done by next year after which the price negotiations to be completed at the earliest and the Rafle inducted.

Anonymous said...

First of all before I start let me say that I have tremendous respect for you and your work. I have followed this blog for a long time now and this is the reason why I feel the need to disagree with you strongly.

You think the F 35 is a generation ahead of the rest by Lockheed's product brochures ?

While the Europeans say their fighters more than compensate for their lack of 'shaped stealth' and offer passive detection technologies like SPECTA,OSF MICA IR(RAFALE), PIRATE(typhoon). More over there is talk of technologies like 'active stealth or active cancellation' to be implemented in further upgrades to the Rafale which will be just as effective and wont compromise on airframe performance. It is debatable that the F 35 will stand superior to latest flankers like the Su 35. Especially when new Ramjet powered Russian missiles become available with the sheer power of the Ibris. Also close in it relies on the Distributed Aperture system, HMDS and HOBS missiles to compensate for the lack of maneuverability against potential adversaries. The problem with is that for every technology there is a counter, modern HOBS missiles cannot be fooled by flares but there are things like DIRCM(Directional Infrared Counter Measures) which will be ubiquitous in future, handing the advantage back to the super-maneuverable rivals of the F35. As there is no counter measures for incendiary rounds fired from a cannon.

And are you kidding anyone with regards to ToT. The Americans are not even giving software codes to their long term chums the Brits, 10-20 billion dollars means a lot more to mostly outward looking European defense firms than the American ones who's major focus is on the internal market.

And why do we need the F 35 in the IAF anyway when we have the FGFA stated to enter the service by early next decade. And there is the indigenous AMCA program.

The F 35B is ideal for the requirements of the Indian Navy but the IAF clearly do not need it.

One could argue that all of the twin engined competitors barring the MIG are clearly superior to anything China would field till the FGFA enters in IAF service. And there is the Su 30 MKI upgrade starting from 2014.



Anonymous said...

First of all before I start let me say that I have tremendous respect for you and your work. I have followed this blog for a long time now and this is the reason why I feel the need to disagree with you strongly.

You think the F 35 is a generation ahead of the rest by Lockheed's product brochures ?

While the Europeans say their fighters more than compensate for their lack of 'shaped stealth' and offer passive detection technologies like SPECTA,OSF MICA IR(RAFALE), PIRATE(typhoon). More over there is talk of technologies like 'active stealth or active cancellation' to be implemented in further upgrades to the Rafale which will be just as effective and wont compromise on airframe performance. It is debatable that the F 35 will stand superior to latest flankers like the Su 35. Especially when new Ramjet powered Russian missiles become available with the sheer power of the Ibris. Also close in it relies on the Distributed Aperture system, HMDS and HOBS missiles to compensate for the lack of maneuverability against potential adversaries. The problem with is that for every technology there is a counter, modern HOBS missiles cannot be fooled by flares but there are things like DIRCM(Directional Infrared Counter Measures) which will be ubiquitous in future, handing the advantage back to the super-maneuverable rivals of the F35. As there is no counter measures for incendiary rounds fired from a cannon.

And are you kidding anyone with regards to ToT. The Americans are not even giving software codes to their long term chums the Brits, 10-20 billion dollars means a lot more to mostly outward looking European defense firms than the American ones who's major focus is on the internal market.

And why do we need the F 35 in the IAF anyway when we have the FGFA stated to enter the service by early next decade. And there is the indigenous AMCA program.

The F 35B is ideal for the requirements of the Indian Navy but the IAF clearly do not need it.

One could argue that all of the twin engined competitors barring the MIG are clearly superior to anything China would field till the FGFA enters in IAF service. And there is the Su 30 MKI upgrade starting from 2014.



Anonymous said...

Dear Shukla ji
This article of yours is totally biased in favor of american companies.It is like offering yourself to the service of Uncle Sam.As a Indian we want to preserve our identity as an independent nature and do not like to behave like a servant to USA.

Anonymous said...

i am calling into question your integrity as a journalist. how big was the check from LM or did they promise you a spin in a plane at the next airshow.

Anonymous said...

And what production slot will we get?


Rahul Singh said...

M-MRCA may not be that advanced and must be very costly but for IAF they are far better than F-35.

Firstly F-35 is a fighter not just a tactical or a heavy lifter and here ACM can't say we will manage without CISMOA which directly translates into compromising on tactical superiority. Risks of sanction is just another gem and will drastically affect preparedness of IAF. And we still not forget how half of PAF-F-16s were sitting dead during Kargil.

Secondly 126-200 will not be the figure IAF will buy if it chooses F-35. The final number will be anywhere close 350 and it means no looking back. To keep IAF a fighting force Bharat will have to continue bow down to American pressure. BTW today no body can predict for sure what will the final cost of jets delivered to us, i guess last example will cost nothing less than $200 million.

Thirdly. F-35 means no AMCA because IAF will not buy two jets in same class. Killing AMCA naturally means back to post-Marut - pre-LCA days meaning death of entire aeronautics industry. Question is, can we afford this situation again? I will say no. For IAF to remain a offensive-defensive force IAF will have to encourage indigenous assets there is no second way out.

Broadsword said...

Bharath, Anonymous 09:21 & Co:

I'm flabbergasted by your argument, which appears to be: don't get the F-35, because it is so good that we won't need the MCA or the LCA Mk II.

So what you're really saying is: buy a less-than-cutting-edge aircraft so that the MCA and LCA Mk II look attractive.


For all you doomsday theorists who are giving 2022 as the date when the F-35... I'll take a bet with anyone who cares to place it: the F-35 will be cleared for operational service before the Eurofighter and Gripen and MiG-35 operationalise their AESA radars.


As for the "we can't trust the Americans" theorists... I'll tell you one thing: we can't trust anyone. Eventually, we'll have to build our own.

But, until that happy day comes, we'd better not put all our eggs in one basket! We are already 70% Russian... will become more so when the Su-30MKIs come into service... will become even more so when and if the FGFA enters service... and so I'm quite ready to diversify.

Unlike so many of you ideologues, I am quite willing to deal with the devil himself when it comes to matters of national interest. If the United States is an acceptable partner for C-130Js, C-17s, and P8i aircraft... I'm quite happy to take the F-35 from them!


US $200 million for the F-35? You guys need to stop getting your information from Wikipedia!



Your argument starts with an ending and then builds the starting and the middle to suit the ending!

How the hell does it matter if Israel pays or the jets are paid for through a US government aid programme? The price remains the same.

Or do you not know how the US defence industry works?

You are entirely misinformed if you think that the Israeli jets will not have Israeli systems. It will probably take you some time to reach the facts, but don't worry... you'll get there.


Anonymous 10:05

You have the only real argument against the F-35: that it will not help build India's defence industry. You are quite right.

However, despite all that you might hear from the MMRCA contenders, none of them will kill themelves to build Indian defence industry. They will do the bare minimum... and the Indian MoD will let them get away with that.

So you'll not be much worse off in that respect if you get the F-35


Anonymous 10:05

Payload! You are aware, I'm certain, that there are light fighters for a light fighter's job; medium for a medium fighter's job; and heavy fighters when we need to carry heavy payloads.

We have lots of heavy fighters. What we don't have are cutting edge medium fighters.

Enter the F-35.


Anonymous 10:20

Your argument: We "do not like to behave like a servant to USA" is so juvenile that it hardly merits a response.

But I will take note of it because that really is the basis of much of the resistance to the F-35: that it is American. It may be the best medium fighter on the planet, but we won't buy it because it is American!

Some strategists!

Anonymous said...

firstly, I am not sure whether the 96million $ price tag has any cath with them.
last time I have heard - the total cost is around 150 million $.

secondly, for a poor, developing country like india where the priorities should be elsewhere we should buy what we need, not what is the best.

that is why IAF's minimum requirement is essential starting point.

Anonymous said...

Shukla Ji the F-35 being a 5th gen fighter will be more expensive to maintain. It has RAM coatings etc that have to be catered for.

The F-35 is still in testing phase so so anything can happen..just last week the B model had to be grounded due to some problems.

What we need are fighters that are already in production so that they can start the supply from the word go. What about the hiccups that could pop up in their production lines? The price tag has been bloating continuously ever since its conception so it doesn't lead to India getting F-35 at $95M just because Israel is getting them at that price.

Only 18 fighters are to be sourced from the seller nation. Would the US ever allow the F-35 to be built in India? They would take a lot of time to get congress's approval.

Thinking about buying F-35s in 2003 of course a bit outlandish.

Buying every other fighter that pops up will kill India's aerospace industry when the AMCA (with some inputs from the FGFA program) can accomplish this role in the future fleet.

Anonymous said...

bah, this will giv our DefMin another chance to push away from making a deal...

jokes apart, good idea, but with current fleet reaching obsolescence, is it advisable to risk for an aircraf tht is yet to reach the production lines?


Anonymous said...

lol about India getting the codes for buying 126 jets. The Brits..what some yanks call their 51st state, aren't getting the codes even when they're buying 138 F-35s.

I believe you are one of best defense writers that India has but articles like the one you have just published and this one don't do justice to your reputation.

Maximus said...

Ah, the Norway, Denmark Conundrum now brought to India.

Anonymous said...

Ajai ji.. F35 is a bomb truck i doubt it will be used as a Air superiority fighter.. American strategy depends on F22 before F35 comes in to picture.. As comparing with our adversaries i guess Euro Canadards are more than enough to keep them at there bay atleast for next 1.5 decade and eventually it will take 2 decade for them to induct a good 5th gen fighters which will give sufficient time for FGFA and AMCA to mature and eventually our local industries also develop.. why do we need a over kill vehicle for this job? All we have to have do is right candidate for the Right job.. and i am sure IAF is going in the right direction..

sameer shelavale said...

Ajay Sir,
I strongly disagree with your view.
Sherkhan is not giving us vital electronics in the c-17 and c-130j deal.
So if we are not signing those agreements the F35s would have no juice in them as well.
On the other hand if we sign those agreements we may be opening them doors to monitor our communication/logistic network which is not acceptable at all.

I had strongly backed your views for Arjun, But not this time :D

Anonymous said...

Ajay Ji, I am eagerly awaiting your response to my post. I haven't used the Anti American card and have put out valid points with regards to the design limitations and lack of ToT wrt to the F 35.


Anonymous said...

Dear Shukla,

"I'm flabbergasted by your argument, which appears to be: don't get the F-35, because it is so good that we won't need the MCA or the LCA Mk II"

You need to read my comment a little slower. I have made it very clear that pursuing F-35 WILL kill our local industry. The very idea of building a robust aeronautics industry to 1: ability to make weapons locally (serves many purposes, for one, we can build weapons at the time of need quickly, and 2 we will HAVE the weapons and not depend of others for their conditions to supply us the weapons at our time of need). Anyways, I ask you one FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION and I neeed an answer to this. Why do you need a stealth fighter when you are going to get PAK FA. The very idea of having a Stealth fighter F-35 when you do NOT HAVE any other 5th generation fighter serves purpose! But why when you have an agreement for 25 billion already on the cards for FGFA!
On the credibility of F-35, I do not think other than frontal aspect stealth, F-35 is going to offer SUBSTANTIAL leap over contemporary fighters. F-35 will definitely be expensive than say rafale/ euro/. Why would you buy such a expensive weapon when rafale and euro can do the same job effectively being cheaper. Use the money to buy as many contemporary fighters! Numbers has its own advantages you know!

Anonymous said...

Why just MMRCA.. the latest batch of SU 30 MKI we are getting costs us more than what Israel will be paying for F 35..Unit cost of SU 30 MKI (wich do not have stealh, AESA and other latest tech) will be $102 Million while Israel is paying $95 million for AESA equipped F35.
We are getting into same trap as we did for Mig 21..we brought Mig 21 as late as 1986 from USSR , at around the same time we were taking delivery of next generation Mig 29s..results..flying coffins . SU 30 MKI is no doubt a good fighter but again the world is at a technology curve and we we are putting our money on less superior aircraft. Likewise for MMRCA..

mukut said...


Reading this article I feel that we are missing something that is important for us.
1. We are not rich America who always used to go for war. We only need to defend our country. So MMRCA contender can do that.
2. If we go for F-35 there will be budget escalation. So its like over-pricing what we need of today.
Because India has too many ares to spend money other than defense.
3. The impact to our aerospace industry. ToT is more important in contrast just buying something. Look at China.
4.We don't need F-35 looking long term perspective because maintenance will be high. As India already participated with Russia for 5-Generation project. Two 5-Gen not possible for India.

Further more what I feel is that India is not developed to think like and talk like other developed country. F-35 will kill our industry moto towards self dependency. Personally I feel that we are spending too much for defense neglecting infrastructure development of our country(like China's High spead railway corridor, J&K, NE.. many more)

Mertz said...

Israel is completely different to India in the american eyes. Is rael is an extension of US policy in the MidEast. They have a history of being together, through thick and thin. Unless india want to become that (extension) it will not have the same leverage. The leverage you have with old systems is simply there because its about jobs and squeezing something from the production line before it gets closed forever. What you are currently recieving, US gives to everyone who can pay....even China (aka C-130). As long as india keeps its feet in both camps (read russia here) they are unlikely to get the game changers from US. But it doesn't hurt to try :-)

Mertz said...

Actually the price that Israel pays is normally not the same as what others pay. Look at what Israel paid for F-16I's and what others paid (for Block 50/52). Israel normally pays the same as what the USAAF pays.

Rahul Singh said...

Allow me to narrow down the discussion(from my side at least) to how and how much F-35 purchase will affect painstakingly put together Indian Aeronautical Industry?

First thing first purchasing F-35 directly means no AMCA and close to absolutely nothing for ADA to work on for coming 20-30 years. Now few questions that come to my mind. What will ADA people and all infrastructure associated with aeronautics except production will do other than biting dust and corrode? Will we able to retain these brains in that environment? If not than what will be its consequence?

In my opinion, buying F-35 against M-MRCA does answer even half the question it raises.

Like it had been said on BROADSWORD itself that for IAF to be Threat to its Threat it will have to work the ways out with associates to get their requirements fulfilled from home. And i believe any purchase of F-35 will walk across this theory diagonally twice.

Indranil said...

Hi Ajai!
I follow you r blog regularly and agree with you on most issues but, this time I think you got it wrong.
The IAF is not equipping itself to go to war with the US or NATO. Our potential adversaries are Pakistan and China. The Su 30 MKI and the proposed MMRCA will give us an edge over them in the forseeable future till the FGFA fructifies in about a decade. 126 -200 F 35's is too expensive and wasteful proposition for tackling the Chinese or Pakistanis.

Ashwin Baindur said...

The common consensus is that we have a largely obsolescent air force (sic). Without getting into the statistics, the incoming quantities of modern aircraft seem like replacements to our standing fleet, not large scale expansion which is the need of the hour (in addition to the technological upgradation). That would mean that we could easily procure a few squadrons of fifth gen aircraft F-35 IN ADDITION to our owngoing procurements and development programs, instead of the INSTEAD OF being discussed here.

What would your views be on this issue, Ajai Sir?

Anonymous said...

OK Here we go again
Please check the Australian airforce review for f-18 by the cabinet it has criticzed both the e-18 and f-35 for not being good enough also we will have to sign a MOU for data sharing and what not after purchasing the f-35 it looks more like a plane to bail out the US economy or else why would you sell a 5th gen fighter when no one else has it THINK

joydeep ghosh said...

Ajai Sir

scrapping the MMRCA and going for JSF-35 wont be a good idea. What India is looking from MMRCA is a 4.5 generation aircraft and not a 5th generation aircraft.

As such if MMRCA is scrapped then the best possible alternative is the Mirage-2000-5.

Anonymous said...

Chill everyone. This is just a debate. Dont take things so seriously. MOD aint taking cognisance to this topic...else there will be another note in file developing !!

Anonymous said...

I think the logic of the MMRCA is as much about developing the domestic defense industrial base as it for replacing the depleting strength of the IAF.

We really don't have the kind of institutional knowledge and project management capability that goes into producing such complex high tech hardware. So the MMRCA offsets would go a long way in giving that a fill up.

Enter PAK FA. Yeah why give the Russians a cakewalk. Let's have the same negotiations with Lockheed and see what they come up with. May the best person win.


Anonymous said...

Okay my take on this.

I would say F-35 should be made available to the Navy rather than IAF. IAF should concentrate on getting top notch tech on to it's 4th gen aircraft and PAK-FA, AMCA etc.

1.F-35 would be available in time for IN carriers and PAK-FA getting available for IAF. This will create a real formidable air power in the region.

2.Reduces time scale. HAL will never be able to absorb F-35 tech(like sensor fusion etc) in time. Let them built up on 4++ and PAK-FA

3. this will force IAF & IN to work together. It is important in future we remove the inter-service rivalry. Note how the British are providing F-35 to the Royal Navy, while RAF is getting Eurofighters!

Ravi said...

Shukla Sir, MMRCA will become second rung F-35 or no F-35 as India is jointly developing FGFA with Russia and has its own 5th generation fighter development programme.

You definitely know more than most of us on these matters but using the logic that take what is best available at the time is choosing won't get us any where.

While Russia is developing FGFA, America is not going to be sitting idle. 5 to 10 years down the line, when we have, god willing, FGFA up and running, if US comes up with a 6th generation fighter then would you advise us scrapping FGFA and go for that fighter?

I think its important to have a robust, proactive, process in place than being fickle minded.

While no argument on the fact that National Interest is supreme. I don't see how just one fighter aircraft can turn the table specially when the adversaries we are planning for don't have those capabilities either and even if they get them in time then so will we as we are working in that direction ourselves.

deep.blue said...

A design that had low observability to radar and imaging devices as its basis is not the only way to survive and complete the objectives of an Air Force.

If you look at it the F-35 compromises a lot for the LO profile.

When it acts as a LO aircraft with no external stores, it is only good at attacking targets with small bombs and missiles, targets like air defence system (radars, missiles, aircrafts etc.), we do not have a enemy with a sophisticated air defence network that can not be dealt with the current plans, and the systematic destruction of air defence system for a larger enemy (PRC), takes much more than a F-35, things that we can not develop, no one will sell us and we can not afford for the next 20-30 years.

When it has to leave the LO role and act like an regular attack aircraft with external stores, it will have a lot of problems in carrying enough weapons and fuel to make a difference, and it is still an expensive LO fighter/attack aircraft.

F-35 is essential for Indian Navy, as it will have to operate carriers away from shore based resources and in an environment where hostile AAW ships, or land based air defence networks can do area denial, the VTOL version of the plane can help the navy in its carrier air power plans.

This whole thing sounds like F-35 is so cool that it can kill Rajnikant, when we know that we do not need to kill Rajnikant, at least not yet.

Let us look at the MMRCA, it could provide us with a platform, which with its advanced electronics and weapons can perform well on the first day of war in the air to air role, and after the enemy air-force is suppressed, it can use its electronics and weapons in the air to ground role, doing both roles while costing less through carrying more fuel and weapons in every sortie.

Anonymous said...

Would like to throw in my views along with that of the other arm-charists:

1) As mentioned by Ajai in the begining of the article... it is just a radical suggestion.It's not as if the IAF or MOD are going to cancel the MMRCA circus because of Ajai's opinion and go for the F-35s. So chill out.

2) As mentioned by Ajai, India's security environment is deteriorating exponentially. Worse,
India's armed forces are reacting to the worsening scenario very lethargically -- modernising the armed forces will be a slow and complex process leaving us very vulnerable in the interrim. Today, we are increasingly moving towards the same situation that Israel
was in about 20 years back -- surrounded by hostile neighbours bent on war mongering and probing attacks. Among one of Israel's responses to the situation was overwhelming technological superiority over its enemies. And time and again it was this technological superiority that was Israel's trumph card. The F-35 in our fleet is a trumph card which
beats anything that either the Pakistanis or Chinese will have for the next 7-8 years and even they know it! A technological superior weapon like the F-35 is not just a force multiplier, it also becomes a psychological demoraliser due to a clear lack of deterrent in the opponent's armory. The F-35 is a killer app in the sky which nullifies any of the infrastructural or logistical advantages that the Chinese have over us.The F-35 induction will thus also provide the crucial time in which our armed forces can modernise or for the currently ordered equipment to come on stream.

3) People have been harping on the LCA, AMCA,PAK-FA solutions. Do any of those eminent personalites have any idea when those pojects will fructify? And do they seriously think 100-200 MMRCA winners and a similar number of the MKIs present the same overwhelming technological superiority and psychological deterrence that the F-35 can provide? I think not.

4) F-35 will kill our homegrown projects? Well not necessarily... the Late Combat Aircraft or the Almost Modern Combat Aircraft can always be developed and sold to the Latin Americans and Africans. You want to build your airplanes? Go build and go sell boss, what's stopping you?

But hey! these are just words. The real decisions have already been taken by the IAF and MOD, and we'll be just getting a few more MKIs or 4.5gen fighters and we'll keep on waiting for the LCA or the AMCA or the PAK-FA. Meanwhile the chinkis will attack and again Lata Mangeshkar will sing another sad song for all those blokes who'll simply be overwhelmed once again.

gerard said...

Boardsword - "I'll take a bet with anyone who cares to place it: the F-35 will be cleared for operational service before the Eurofighter and Gripen and MiG-35 operationalise their AESA radars."

I will gladly take that bet !!!

Anonymous said...

irrelevant to the current topic.

but UK is scrapping harrier jump jets by next year.
india's INS viraat is going to be available till 2020 or may be 2025.
but with not many harriers.

we should seriously consider buying few from UK. UK will be to happy and we can even get them at bargain price.

Anonymous said...

Nitpicking I know, but.....it's "Lightning", not "Lightening".

Arjun Subramanian. P said...

Dear Mr. Ajai,

It is true that the F- 35 is a more capable aircraft than other aircrafts in the MMRCA race. But in the first place our requirements have to be considered. The IAF has to be properly equipped to deal with the Chinese threat. The F-35 has some serious limitations in that respect,

1. The F-35 has a very good forward sector stealth, but its aft and beam sector stealth performance is not that good. This drawback makes it vulnerable to the S-300 and HQ-9 SAM systems the Chinese have deployed in good numbers.

2. The F-35 has good x-band stealth capability. But it is less effective against low band long range radar.

3. If the SU-30 can get close enough it can defeat the F-35 with its higher kinematics and heat seeking BVR missiles.

4. The F-35 radar power is limited by its cooling capacity and the radar aperture is limited by its nose geometry.

5. Also, the SU-30 can be upgraded with a higher power radar, as the SU-30 has a large space in its nose to accommodate the cooling system for the radar. With such an upgraded radar the F-35 can be detected at a longer distance.

So, it would not be wise for the IAF to go for the F-35. Instead the F-22 can be preferred as it is, in every way, more capable than the F-35 and is best suited to deal with the Chinese weapon systems.

The Indian-Russian PAK FA (or T-50) is also a perfect aircraft for the IAF. Though I cannot comment on its stealth performance, as it is classified, it has an edge in other aspects,

1. It is less expensive than the
F-22 and F-35.
2. It has a superior range compared
to the F-22 and F-35.
3. It should be more maneuverable
than the Raptor as it has a
bigger wing surface and is
lighter than the F-22.
4. It would be between 14 and 20%
faster than the F-22.
5. The PAK FA would have a 20%
higher thrust-to-weight-ratio
than the F-22.

SRIVAN said...

Refer to your response to my comments. It indicates that you are interested in finding loopholes and not engaging in honest discourse. I am not a journalist. Please study the sites I listed.

Also, read & study these links :
1) http://ceoworld.biz/ceo/2009/10/21/signals-of-decreasing-f-35-quantities-and-looking-cost-effective-substitutes-for-the-us-forces

2) http://ceoworld.biz/ceo/2009/10/21/signals-of-decreasing-f-35-quantities-and-looking-cost-effective-substitutes-for-the-us-forces

3) http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/index.jsp?plckController=Blog&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&plckPostId=Blog:27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a-01329aef79a7Post:16da3c25-8043-4024-a52b-6f031149216f

4) http://www.f-16.net/news_article2593.html

The US is stealthily downsizing the amount of F35 that it will buy & stretching out the production till 2035. (due to budgetary & economic problems)

Even UK has changed from F35 B to F35 C due to cost and the number has reduced from 138 to @ 40.

All this will increase the unit price. Also, the software is under US control.

You have stated that Israel will put their own sub-systems. That will be done after the first 20 aircraft ordered. Again, critical mission software is under US control in Israel. Can you certify that LM and US govt has allowed Israel for same.

Please note that the Us intends to qualify the following weapons on this aircraft - AIM 120, AIM 9X & SDB. They have refused to qualify ASRAAM & Meteor on the F35 free of cost for the British & Europeans. They are not going to certify Israeli weapons also. It is "take-it-or leave-it" offer.

Israel can live under such conditions. Can India live under such constraints?

Turkey is supposed to order 100 + such aircraft. They are just waiting for the aircraft to be proven. before placing order so that the exact cost is known.

In all suggesting to plump for F35 instead of MMCRA is as good as waiting for Godot.

how come Lm has suckered you into this?

Sardar Ram Singh porkychinki farker said...

The fittest must and will survive, the arjun tank was better than the T90 and it survived and perhaps the next gen will be much better.

Not to get the best fighter plane just because it will kill the local industry is to insult the captains of the local industry, the local industry has to develope better weapons than what the world has to offer to be counted just like the arjun tank.

The arjun tank was treated like an unwanted tank but it proved its worth.

The arguement that India only needs cheaper and less capable aircraft because if otherwise the local industry will be stiffled, is a flawed arguement. If China or Pakistan or China and Pakistan fights a war or wars and defeat India and if the better aircraft could beat them then the very existence of India is at stake and should we be so penny wise and pound foolish to let the country suffer a defeat just because we want our industry to succeed.

Our Diamond cutting and polishing industry is surviving because they are the best, the software industry is surviving because they are the best, auto industry is rising because they are getting to be the best, likewise the aeronautics industry will rise if it has to rise and it is with people who are dedicated to building a aeronautical industry for India. But our defences should not and never go for second class weapons just because our own chaps are not up to the mark. Our own chaps will never want to produce substandard products or second class weapons systems so that the enemy can beat us.

I respect you Ajay Ji. Thank you for your thoughts. Its great thinking

ABHISHEK said...

mr ajay if you finalize the deal even now we would get it in somewhat 2020 so whats the point can we wait for 4 to 5 years without not even a single advanced fighter other than su's even we can get fgfa in same time frame .Its a better option f 35 are not much manueverable ,agile and again cost .and even politically it wont be a pleasing reply to our russian friends.this have less observable rcs which is its only advantage .have a look to this http://apture.s3.amazonaws.com/0000012927f685fab40b574b007f000000000001.eurofighter%205th%20gen%20fighter%20checklist.jpg

Shailendra said...

Good thought. We should get F-35s. Why ? Because that is a better air craft. I am not sure whether you can compare FGFA with F-35. One more thing. f 35 will be operational in 1-2 years.
And FGFA is still in design phase.

If there will be no corruption, I think INDIAN tax payers pay enough money to buy 1000 F 35s and also have a workshop of it in INDIA.

Turkey is also part of F 35.

One more thing to add, Why not to join F 35 as level one partner ? this will help us to gain more knowledge of aviation, which we lack now.

coolgeek said...

Ajai, The real question is whether F35 is truly far exceptional when compared to Typhoon and Rafale.
I would like to know your view on SHIV AROOR's post(Eurofighter article) on the very same issue.

My second concern is whether we can trust americans ? While your assertion of we cannot trust anybody is true to an extent but none can compare to UNCLE SAM when it comes to "Trust Factor". Who can forget their supposedly close ally Pakistan given $600 Million dollar worth soyabeans for F-16 contract, that too delivered by American ships with their own price tag.

I would also like to add support to my argument from "The story of Tejas" book... when we were left high and dry due to sanctions imposed post pokhran, while at the same timeframe EADS helping us out...

Would appreciate your comments...

Anonymous said...

Here's the article in a nut shell:

No need for any stategy or process when it comes to procurement, we just buy the most expensive and the latest product out there that is available to us and we are all set. This procurement stuff is really easy.


Vivek said...

Hi Ajai,

I agree completely with what you've said and I think most of the criticism stems from a basic ignorance among your readers about the F-35 itself.

1. Its comparable in cost to the pricier MMRCA options - Eurofighter, Rafale, SH.
How come? Well sheer size of its orders thoroughly dwarfs EF/Gripen/Rafale. The economies of scale ensure a cheaper aircraft.

2. Its approaching its IOC and its not a stretch to say that the IAF can expect its first delivery in 2015 if its ordered now.

3. Combat effectiveness. The F-22 scored a 144-0 kill ratio at Ex. Northern Flag against an opposition consisting of F-15Cs, F-15Es, F-16Cs, F-18C and F-18Es. That's what stealth can do for you. And considering the backing the F-35 has got, I'd bet my last penny on it outclassing the Eurocanards and teens.

Mr. Ra said...

Whether we purchase the F-35 or not or we join their consortium or not, but one thing is certain that in the end this plane is going to be donated to our neighbor at free of cost.

Anonymous said...

Ajai, I think your this article is poorly researched and you have not analyzed all the different angles. The devil usually lies in the details and I do not think either you or me has the relevant details for that deal.

You may be aware that cost of avionics is about 50% of the total cost of the aircraft. If Israel is going to put its own avionics then it is only paying for half the cost of the aircraft. I have read somewhere that F-35 is going to cost somewhere around $200 million a pop for USAF (based on the Congressional budget office estimate). So Israel getting the plane for $96 mil fits within that costing mechanism if it uses its own avionics. Besides India is not Israel and US is never going to share the source code for its system like F-35 with India come hail or high water unless India abandons its own MCA & LCA program for the fear of cross contamination of technologies. If you understand the politics on the Capitol hill, you would know it too!

And F-35 is not really that great! It has space for only 2 A2A missiles in its internal bay. The aircraft is only stealthy as long as no missiles are mounted on its external pylons and when the internal bay opens to deliver the missile the stealth vanishes. So if you really want to fly a plane which would deliver bombs and missiles on a A2G run then F-35 is less than optimal. F-35 STOVL for navy however would be another ballgame altogether as it has no competition (after retirement of harrier jump jets).

I think for MRCA, we should stick to the tendering process that is already on and select a suitable winner within the 5 contenders in the interest of time, money and sanity rather go for Mungeri Lal ke Haseen Sapne.

Ranajeet said...

The F35 is a pretty good airplane - the best in the medium category class! The IAF is also probably keen to get its hands to it. They know the americans can deliver far quicker and better than DRDO (AMCA) or the Russians (FGFA). The main obstable is the anti-american establishment at the MOD and in India in general. The current buying environment does not favor the JSF at all these days. It will require a massive change in our mindset to get the JSF.
What will probably happen is that the IAF will depend on the ground attack capabilities of EF or the F18 after the airdefences are cleared by the SUs and T50. They will reason that once the skies are clear, it wouldnt matter if the ground strike aircraft is the stealthy JSF or the bulky F18, so long as the ground underneath turns into a pile of rubble.
Problem with this approach is that we are overrelying on the FGFA and whatever MMRCA we get. The AMCA and LCA-II are backups for this scenario!
I believe the JSF doesnt quite fit into the current thinking of the IAF. So its best to keep the offer for JSF open for us and use it a bargaining chip for MMRCA and even buy it if the AMCA or FGFA program doesnt go as planned.
Whats probably best about the JSF is its radar. If we can get the EF to deliver an equally good radar, I will not have many complaints about the MMRCA. Overall EF with good CAESAR = JSF, almost!.

Anonymous said...

Ajai, Your suggestion is not radical, its ludicrous! Capacity building is made based on threat perception; and the threat that has been perceived can be effectively managed with the current MMRCA contenders. We do not need a sledgehammer to swat a fly!

Vinay said...

Dear sir,

While most of my points are already expressed in the comments, I feel like expressing my disagreement with your article nonetheless.
I have nothing more to add except that I get a feeling that you have been lavishly entertained by the Americans.

joydeep ghosh said...

Ajai sir

lot of people have expressed their opinion against the JSF-35, a 5th generation aircraft. But I want to express my opinion on MMRCA deal, I may be saying too much, but still would expect a good ear/eye :-) to go through them.

Why The Hell We Need MMRCA-An Argument Against

We all know IAF is desperately short of fighters with its strength now below 32 squadrons, and expected to go down further with more aircrafts being retired. While a sanctioned strength is 39.5 squadrons with healthy level of 42 squadrons which India reached only in mid 80s, the aging MiG21 fleets retirement and delay in induction of Tejas meant India had to go for MMRCA, which will be a 4.5 generation aircraft, as such their is no need for a 5 generation aircraft.

With security threat from China looming large and hawkish people saying China is likely to attack India in 2012, we need to get aircrafts in the air very fast. But still we can make do without a MMRCA. How the following points may clear the air.

1. India is entering into US$2.1 billion TOT deal with Dassault for upgrading our 56 Mirage 2000 (a 4 generation aircraft) so that they continue flying till 2025 and beyond till our latest fighters start arriving (LCA,AMCA, FGFA, more Su-30MKI). Few points

a. UAE is reportedly exchanging all its 68 Mirage 2000 with Rafale and Dassault will buy them back (as it did with 12 Mirage 2000 of Qatar, which India wanted to buy but backed out due to high price) to export to other countries.

b. A South American country which has Mirage 2000 kept in storage is planning to sell (over 10 in nos) them back to Dassault.

2. India is going for US$ 12 billion MMRCA deal for 126 aircrafts (essentially 4.5 generation) from 6 contenders with TOT to tide over our shortfall in aircraft numbers. Few points

a. India reportedly doesn’t want to buy Mig 35, being wary of putting all eggs in one Russian basket.

b. India reportedly doesn’t want to go for Gripen (it will not help forge greater political/economic ties).

c. The Rafale/Eurofighter are both good aircrafts but very expensive.

d. F-16 is already 30 yr old platform and in service with PAF and F-18 Super Hornet is very expensive.

e. India is wary of saying no to US as it can hamper our future deals and antagonize the US with ramifications in political, economic and other areas.

Anonymous said...

Just recently Canada has placed order for 65 F-35 planes for 9 billion dollars.

I been following this blog for long time, but never posted. I always agree what Ajai says but here I tend to disagree with Ajai suggestion.

I know Ajai is not siding towards American cos. But, he put his thoughts of acquiring the latest plane for IAF.

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

A truly level-headed and objective analysis by BROADSWORD on the on-going M-MRCA fiasco, although I'm curious why BROADSWORD took more than a year to reach such a conclusion. With the Tejas Mk2 itself being projected to 'grow' into a full-fledged M-MRCA, there's simply no operational need for a fourth-generation M-MRCA of imported origin. Once again, how I wish this analysis was drafted by BROADSWORD soon after HAL and ADA had unveilled their plans to co-develop the Tejas Mk2 M-MRCA. And hopefully once and for all the Tejas will no longer be described as a 'Light Combat Aircraft'.

mukut said...

Yesterday i read one article on TOI

USA is going for $2 billion defense aid to Pakistan. Other hand US is aiming for Billions dollar deal with India.

Can we think some different way. Our big enemy Pakistan gaining much more from US and we are just feeding US bankrupted industry.

Its a game that US is playing.. They armed Israel, and 'help' Saudis protect against Israel.
Arming India and helping Pakistan and we Indian supporting US game.

Can you say same thing can happen to China?

Need to thing differently..



Anonymous said...

Do anyone knows what happens to all the aircrafts which are being phased out by Indian Air force like our MIGs? Do we sell it to other Air force?

Adarsh said...


I believe the Indian Armed Forces are running parallel overlapping Modernization plans forced by our neglect of armed forces for a long time. This requires us to make inefficient and expensive choices. We have threats that are immediate,medium also longterm and I do believe we are grossly found wanting for all.

Basic Problem with F-35 is ToT and availability, If we order now; when can we can get our 200 jets? From what I know, the order books are full till 2025. So where is our answer to medium and short term threat assessment? Long term plans are in place, FGFA and AMCA.

Israel is a special case in the western scheme of things, and India does not posses their lobbies nor their history.

Basic idea of MRCA right now is a cheap gap filler with tot. Gripen NG/F-16IN sounds the best idea for me.

Broadsword said...

Vinay says: "I have nothing more to add except that I get a feeling that you have been lavishly entertained by the Americans."

Normally, I would not respond to such a comment, since it says more about the person who posts it than it does about who it is directed at.

But I will point out a major flaw in this assumption, and that is: there is no such thing as "the Americans". There are two American companies in the MMRCA contest: Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And they are deathly rivals of each other. Boeing has only one real competitor on this planet: Lockheed Martin. And vice versa.

So if I argue for the F-35, I cut at Boeing. If I argue for Boeing, I cut at Lockheed Martin. If I argue "buy American", both those rivals will continue to combat each other. So where, in the defence industry, is this thing called, "the Americans"?

Just for the record, I have been hosted by Boeing on a visit to their facilities in the US. I have never had so much as a cup of coffee from Lockheed Martin.

So much for the bought-over thesis!!

NRP said...

I am confused! How can a stealth fighter remain in invisible mode and yet acquire and engage targets? The moment it opens up its radar it can be detected at twice the maximum range of its radar! (The radar waves have to travel double the distance to reach its source). So a stealth fighter eventually will give away its location much before it can operate its weapon systems. Am I wrong in my assumption? Someone please tell me.


Anonymous said...

Sengupta!? I thought you were dead!

ABHINABA said...

Due to spending a lot of time under cold war Indian people had a bad image about U.S weapons & i.e why the argument for the acquisition of american weapos will never end in India .
Ajaiji you can remember in 1960s there was a same argument for buying F-104 Starfighter & as a alternative MIG-21 was chosen & it's FL & M version was used for mass production in INDIA - but on those days there was nothing to choose between them as both were fighter from 2nd generation.

Now times changed & there is no alternative option for IAF as PAK-FA in full specification will only be available in 2020-22 i.e a full 8 years delay from availability of F-35s & to fullfill the gap IAF will introduce more SU-30 in near future. For me MMRCA is a completely different section & they are only for strengthen the IAF's 2nd line fighters.

Anonymous said...

Hope Russians read this article and get us PAK FA asap :-) obviously they dont want us to go to Uncle Sam... strategic article Shukla-ji ;-)

Anonymous said...

lol.... until and unless India privatizes her defence sectors, India can never produce a top QUALITY military stuff....BRING IT ON GUYS... keep ranting about MMRCA, F35, PAKFA etc...after the huge success of our beloved time-pass plane Tejas with self-devolped AESA, amazing Kaveri Engine, advanced air to air missiles that can hit a target flying near Pluto and all those intolerable build-up, that gobbled up my hard earned money (ofsourse an paying tax for this crap) i have now started feeling bored...come on guys... expecting another wonderful time pass product from HAL\DRDO and other defence establishments, hope u can atleat do this for me afterall i can be happy on the tax money that i am paying for u guys....

othena said...

Sure it makes semse, if 1) no more military aid to Pakistan 2) no more blacklisting indian scientific or military entities 3) no special terms & conditions other than what we have with Russia 4) meeting India's offset. price, transfer of technology requirements...

Failing this whatever it takes for India to become self sufficient in technology should be the consideration.

Dealing with Pak & China till then should be based on the Samson option...

Anonymous said...

Excellent and gutsy reporting

Anonymous said...

Buying more conventional weapons ... defeats the purpose of having a nuclear deterrent. Money that could be well spent elsewhere.

Manne said...

Anon @ 22:21

Must say I am awestruck by your observation. Thank God Indian armed forces do not subsribe to such logic!

Just to clarify what I am getting at, please can you highlight one nuke armed country with economy comparable to India's that does not take its conventional forces seriously?

- Manne

Anonymous said...

Speaking for F35s because there there is no competition with Europeans. That plane has to be sent to unkil even for maintenance!!! No thanks.

Anonymous said...

so pay with LM is good, isn't it ?

Typhoon said...

Being from the UK and reading back through the blog its surely a bit of dark humour that an article proposing the F-35 for India precedes the UK's austere strategic review!

India is very lucky to be in the position where it is politically feasable to have a choice of its future 5th generation aircraft. For the UK and many in the west the only choice is the F-35, which has locked us into America's latest fighter program death spiral. Personally I think its not so much radical as unacceptable to willingly jump into such a visibly troubled program when everyone else seems to be trying to jump out and India has such a promising alternative.

That said it would be great for us if India did take the F-35. You could take on some of the costs it took to develop, might even drop the unit price by a couple of million...

Abhid-d said...

Mr. Shukla, in your response on 19 Oct 10:48 on the one hand you say (to Bharath & co) that India must not forego an advanced jet like F-35, simply to sustain the AMCA.

But in the very same post, you say that since MRCA manufacturers are also hardly likely to part with any technology with India, then better to go with F-35 than an inferior MRCA (any one of the 6).

Don't you think this is self-contradictory ? The whole point of the Tejas and AMCA is not just to blow the trumpet of self-reliance, but to

1) Finally be free from foreign nations, nay, foreign companies from holding the strings to the Indian jawan's equipment.

2) To finally be independent from foreign countries, their geopolitics etc, and lastly

3) To develop a robust technological base of developing our own fighting machines, specific to India and for India.

Your argument that the Indian armed forces must get the best toys in the market, even if from the Devil is a cliched one. It is used by self-righteous armymen (and piots and sailors) while discrediting indigenous equipment and gasping at the latest offering from Lockheed, Israel, France etc.

If this argument gives you a moral high-ground, then so be it. Let's cancel the AMCA and Tejas Mk-2. Instead, lets buy 220 MRCAs. Let's cancel Arihant and lease more Russian nuke subs. Let's cancel the AAD/PAD and splurge on Aegis and THAAD. Also, why develop Nirbhay, when we can get home-delivery of the latest-est Tomahawks ?

Heck, why did we even bother to develop the LCA and Arjun ?

Broadsword said...


I never said to scrap the LCA; you said it.

I would say, let's continue with our indigenous fighter construction programmes, whatever names you choose to give them: MCA, AMCA, whatever.

However, and you all really need to get your heads around this simple argument: India has decided to get 126 (perhaps going up to 200) medium fighters from the global market. And I'm saying: don't get the 2nd best, get the best.

There is nothing that the purchase of any of the six MMRCA contenders will give you, that an F-35 purchase won't. In fact, since we'll be buying the F-35 as a single-vendor purchase, without having tied ourselves down to a stupid RfP, we'll be able to extract concession from Lockheed Martin that go well beyond anything that the MMRCA contenders will provide.

Anonymous said...

Mr Shukla,
Completely agree with you that if we are buying 126 jets, lets get 'the best' and not the 'second best'.
According to your July 10th 2009 entry on Broadsword(actual Washington post report I think) even the USAF is having difficulty maintaining a smaller number (188) of Raptors. The cost of flying per hour, aicraft availability and preserving the stealth coating are some of the major issues.
Will some of these factors be present in the F-35. Probably. They are made by the same company and based on similar technology.
Will the IAF have enough funds for the maintenance of the 126 (probably 200) F-35 jets? Compared to a 4th generation jet the operating cost of the F-35 will be much higher. In addition according to recent reports IAF is planning to procure about 250 heavy weight PAK-FA type 5th generation jets. The cost of maintaining a larger number of these jets would be already exorbitant. IN my opinion there needs to be a balance in operating the expensive PAK-FA and relatively inexpensive 4++ generation MMRCA.
Thanky ou for listening.

Nakul said...

A key point you have missed out here is the requirements of the IAF and the untested nature of the F-35 platform.

1. The F-35 is designed primarily as a strike and close air support aircraft with only secondary air to air capabilities. F-35's speed is also not suited for air to air combat. There is absolutely no need for VSTOL capabilities, which have been the key focus of the BASIC DESIGN of the aircraft. IAF needs a true multirole aircraft.

2. In order to preserve the stealth characteristics, it can only use the internal weapons bay (4 pylons). 6 external pylons are available otherwise. Most MMRCA contenders have better payload capacities.

3. It has a limited range, less than ALL of the MMRCA contenders.

4. US is definitely not a reliable supplier, and is known to be fond of strong-arming buyers.

5. The F-35 has not yet entered active service with any military force. Preliminary reports point at flaws and shortcomings in the aircraft. It is not a proven platform and until we can witness its capabilities, it would be too big a bet to just go and buy it, as per your suggestion.

The idea of pitting it against the other MMRCA contenders in light of the IAF requirements sounds good though. Like you claim, that it won't be much costlier than the aircraft we're currently considering, I don't see why it is not part of the competition. That it is over-qualified (and still as cheap as the just-qualified) sounds weird, right? If we can get a lot better for just a little bit more, why aren't we even considering it? Unless the IAF has good reasons for that, which probably are that i) it doesn't fulfill the requirements, and ii) it is an untested platform, and the only information available is from the people who are bound to harp upon its virtues.

I would love to see the F-35 in a joint exercise with the IAF, or in trials pitted against the MMRCA contenders, so that we can at least get a feel of it.

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Abhid-d said...

You said :
I never said to scrap the LCA; you said it.

Sir, the last rant about scrapping everything from Arihant to LCA was a sarcastic one. I hope you understand.

You said :
However, and you all really need to get your heads around this simple argument: India has decided to get 126 (perhaps going up to 200) medium fighters from the global market. And I'm saying: don't get the 2nd best, get the best.

Agree with the part that, agar khareedna hi hai then we should buy the best and not no.2 or no.3. But once again sir, what of the AMCA then, which is already in danger of being trampled by the PAK-FA ? So aviation history will see a new case of Russian 5th gen and Yankee 5th gen. coming together to kill the Indian 5th gen.

If the AMCA goes, whatever little indigenous industry that we've cobbled by way of LCA, will be finished.

You said :
There is nothing that the purchase of any of the six MMRCA contenders will give you, that an F-35 purchase won't.
Sir, agreed this is true. But the other 6 contenders won't contribute in joining the PAK-FA to smother the AMCA. The F-35 will.

Besides, the Gripen and Typhoon have competed with the F-35 in fighter jet tenders elsewhere also (for the Norwegian and Dutch Air Forces). SAAB gave the Norwegian Air Force a sound public thrashing, after Gripen lost to F-35. And Euro consortium publicly released a document explaining why the Typhoon is "more" 5th gen. than the F-35 (it was posted on Shiv Aroor's blog).

Broadsword said...


Are you arguing that there will be room for the MCA if the IAF is operating a fleet of (300 FGFAs + 200 MMRCAs + 300 Su-30MKIs + 200 LCAs)... and there will be no room for the Indian MCA if the fleet is (300 FGFAs + 200 F-35s + 300 Su-30MKIs + 200 LCAs)?

I'm mystified! Explain this to me please?

When a procurement or a development programme is to be sanctioned, this country's MoD does it in terms of numbers. In both the cases that I have outlined, India will have 1000 fighters. Are you saying that, if 200 of those are F-35s, the MCA will go ahead, while it will be scrapped if those 200 are, say, Eurofighters?

I don't agree with you.

The MCA will be sanctioned as soon as the LCA Mk II programme nears its end and it becomes clear that a whole generation of designers are threatened with extinction. By then, HAL will have imbibed at least some Gen-5 experience from the FGFA programme, making their case stronger. The F-35/Eurofighter procurement will have nothing to do with this decision.

As for the argument that the Eurofighter is more Gen-5 than the F-35... it comes from the manufacturer! Hardly an unbiased source. If the Eurofighter were a good enough multi-role combat aircraft to deliver an all-role capability, why would the RAF be going in for F-35s over and above its Eurofighter fleet?

Typhoon said...

"why would the RAF be going in for F-35s over and above its Eurofighter fleet?"

Its not, at the time of writing the UK does not even have a commitment on the number of F-35 it will be able to purchase and has only just worked out what type it would actually like.

We do know however that the F-35 will be ordered in lower quantities than planned (so less than ca. 150 aircraft). This is unlikely to improve as the economy remains shakey, aircraft is more and more expensive and all nations are revaluating numbers downwards.

The UK does however have a commitment to 160 Eurofighter. As such it is the Eurofighter that will form the bulk of the RAF for the next decade +.


A comment on always going for the "best", the phrase 'more money than sense' springs to mind.

Broadsword said...


At the end of your exposition, the question still remains exactly what it was before: "why would the RAF be going in for F-35s over and above its Eurofighter fleet?"

While it is not yet clear whether the UK is cutting down on its number of F-35s (all we know so far is that it is taking the F-35C, instead of the F-35B), what is certain is that the RAF is buying less Typhoons than it had earlier planned.

Abhid-d said...

Well, just yesterday or the day before, a top Defence Ministry official Mr. Pradeep Kumar ruled out two 5th gen. fighters for the IAF, in a reply to journos. He was asked about the possibility of IAF going for F-35s.

Also, last week AM Naik also said at a conference, "...if it were to me, I'd have a single fighter type. But we're not in an ideal world".

In my opinion, both these statements strongly indicate that other than just absolute numbers, operational costs and logistics maintenance too are important factors for the IAF.

Even the USAF is having second thoughts on the F-35. So the IAF would have the distinction of having not 1, not 2, but 3 fifth gen fighters.


Already, there is a serious threat to the AMCA from the Russian PAK-FA or FGFA, (whatever). If an F-35 comes, in my opinion we can bid Adios to not only AMCA, but also the Indian military aviation industry.

Maybe that's why in an exceedingly rare display of PR, the DRDO is careful to refer to it as a "next generation fighter, not in the class of the PAK-FA" and never once has used the word "5th gen". Their hair probably stood on end, when there were murmurs of Lockheed making presentations pitching the JSF for the for the IAF as a follow-on to the F-16.

As for the RAF going for Typhoons as well as JSFs, they've indeed drastically cut down on their JSF orders to only token numbers (probably becoz they're co-developers/investors).

Nakul said...

Col. Shukla, what Abhi-d and others clearly mean is that if the IAF has aircraft (like the F-35 and PAK-FA) that fulfill the same role that AMCA is intended to, the Govt. will see no reason to go ahead with a costly development program for the AMCA. On the other hand, if we do not have F-35s, and rather have 4.5th gen aircraft, the development costs of the AMCA can be justified.

Frankly, it is disappointing to see a professional army officer this headstrong and unwilling to see sense.

A fellow officer.

Typhoon said...

Its hard to imagine anything but a cut in the number of F-35 considering the carrier fast jet requirement is being reduced from 36 to 12 and the whole program is critisised as 'crowding out other important investment' in the SDSR. That and the phrase 'reduce our planned number of Joint Strike Fighter aircraft' kind of gives the game away.

While I aknowledge that Tranche 3B remains ambiguous and understanding that a Tranche 4 is likely impossible it is difficult to see where (be it numerical, technological or even pycological) the RAF in respect to the JSF is going 'over and above' the Eurofighter. The two aircraft are very much considered as complimentary pillars of the force and Eurofighter is a lot more tangible than the F-35 at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,

I find it sad that some people have made ridiculous comments about Ajai's motivations here.His articles are always well researched, incisive and focus on pragmatic national interest. Above all integrity comes across very strongly.

However, and Ajai correct me if Im wrong, he was thinking aloud assuming an ideal scenario where politicans and babus are focused on and take decisions in the national interest. Under that assumption and assuming that we can get a price of USD 100 mio, no restrictive usage issues, and delivery by starting by 2014 I believe he is right.

Ajay will ofcourse research those issues and let us know the facts but even if all that can happen unfortunately the first assumption is wrong.

As Ajai knows our geostrategic thinking has been incoherent at best and non existent at worst since...well for a very long long time! In recent times added to that is our appaling defence project exectition record and a dysfunctional defence ministry.

And now when we are living at the most dangeorus time in the planet's history, we have severly depleted defence capabilities. I have access to some of the highest echelons of the forces' current and ex establishment and this is not hyperbole.

So we need the MMCRA program to go through asap so that we start rebuilding the IAF. Our defence ministry is not capable of inducting the JSF in the timeframes we need. I know it is suboptimal but there is no choice.

We need aircraft (and naval bases ,subs, night vision equipment, arty guns, better assault rifles, 5.56 mm ammo, helicopters, more AMC hospitals and doctors, dedicated IAF bases, better assualt rifles, pilots, officer level morale and lots more) yesterday.

For those who are concerned about the FGFA and AMCA may I draw their attention to the LCA Mk1. Even after getting FOC it WILL NOT see combat service because it is UNDERPOWERED and cannot function with a full combat load. No amount of raving ranting or wishful thinking will change that.

I would give my right arm to get a truly indengous AMCA but most of us know that that wont happen unless a complete overhaul of the ADA, DRDO and defence production establishment is undertaken.

And Im not holding my breath.

Akshay Kapoor



The MMRCA will prove obsolete in the future.Over the next decade f-35 will dominate the sky along with Indian FGFA.Its clear that India will be the most powerful country in the world.



ebuckbuck said...

Mr Shukla,
I think you suffer from similar technical expertise myopia like most indians do and then claim to be a public analyst. Could you please write in detail your technical credentials before analyzing any flying machine.

Firstly , F35 is aturkey because of small wings and exteremely thick fuselage which makes it exteremely stiff and immovable(turnable). Its a sitting duck to ground fire and aerial comabat as it can only fly straight and fast.

Secondly the stealth is only mean tfor short wavelenght radars, its visible as a football on long wavelenght WWII radars or hybrids.

Thirdly it needs 100 hours of maintainance for 1 hour of flying !! with estimated cost no less than 200usd per plane. Its the biggest paper plan scam here in US and looks you are on payroll of lockheed to promote it in india.

Lastly there is no such clear define line in 5th generation or 4th generation ...its a scam ...talk in terms of actuals if you claim to be an analyst.don t use jargones!!

And FYI ..I am a rocket scientist at NASA who designs solar satellites instruments ...