Right: A view of Aero India 2011, with a Eurofighter doing aerobatics in the distance.
Left: Rafale taxies for take off. As Broadsword reported then, these were the two fighters that were the IAF's choices, and that the American fighters were out of the race
Business Standard, 29th April 11
India’s keenly watched purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for some Rs 42,000 crore ($9.5 billion) has entered its final leg. Yesterday, four of the six vendors were officially ruled out of the fray after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) wrote to them, providing full details about how their fighters had failed to meet the specifications laid down by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Just two vendors did not receive letters of rejection: France’s Dassault Aviation and the European consortium, Eurofighter GmbH.
The aircraft that the MoD ruled out of contention include Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper; the Russian MiG-35; and the Swedish Gripen NG. Each of these failed to meet several of the over 600 parameters evaluated by the IAF. The Gripen, for example, though highly rated in flying performance, was rejected because the IAF was not convinced that its airborne radar would be delivered in time.
Neither Dassault nor Eurofighter have been officially informed that they have been down-selected, or that they are the only two vendors remaining in contention. But both are assuming their aircraft met the IAF’s requirements during the technical evaluation and field trials. And, that one of them — the lower bidder, going by India’s defence procurement regulations — will be awarded the contract.
“We’re not yet popping the champagne or handing out bonuses,” said an executive from one of the vendors still in contention. “We haven’t heard anything yet from the MoD, so any celebration would be premature.”
What is clear, though, is the disappointment amongst the losers, each of which had spent millions of dollars in putting their fighters through the MoD’s rigorous selection process and supporting their bids from newly-opened offices in Delhi. The United States government, which has applied sustained political pressure from President Obama downwards, has declared that it is “deeply disappointed by this news”.
Indicating that Washington has not yet given up hope, US Ambassador Tim Roemer stated today, “I have been personally assured at the highest levels of the Indian government that the procurement process for this aircraft has been and will be transparent and fair. I am extremely confident that the Boeing F/A 18IN and Lockheed-Martin F-16IN would provide the IAF an unbeatable platform with proven technologies at a competitive price.”
The Boeing Company, also “disappointed with this outcome”, stated, “Our next step is to request and receive a debrief from the IAF. Once we have reviewed the details, we will make a decision concerning our possible options, always keeping in mind the impact to the IAF.”
The MoD’s tender (officially termed a Request for Proposal, or RfP) asks for 126 fighters, with the first 18 to be supplied in flyaway condition within three years of signing the contract, and the balance to be progressively built in India through transfer of technology. But most aviation experts predict the IAF’s growing requirements will lead to at least 200 MMRCAs being eventually inducted into service.
The down-selection of the Eurofighter and Rafale points to the Indian military’s growing financial muscle. Going by publicly available figures of previous purchases of these aircraft, the Eurofighter and Rafale are easily the two most expensive of the six that were being considered. Critics point to the fact that the Rafale has not been bought by any air force besides France. Of the four countries that developed the Eurofighter, three — the UK, Italy and Spain — have decided to go in for the F-35 being developed by the US, rather than increase their fleet of Eurofighters.
Nevertheless, the IAF’s dwindling fighter fleet — now down to 32 squadrons from an authorised 39.5 squadrons, each squadron having 18 fighters – has forced the MoD to go ahead with the MMRCA purchase. The indigenously developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), entering production now, will only be inducted in significant numbers after 2016. The IAF has been meeting the shortfall by buying more Su-30MKIs from Russia, even as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s production line has failed to meet schedules.
Meanwhile, the IAF has pressured the MoD to expedite the MMRCA purchase. At the Aero India 2011 air show in Bangalore, in February, IAF boss Air Chief Marshal P V Naik declared that he expected the MMRCA contract to be signed by this September, a day after Defence Minister A K Antony had set a deadline of March 2012.
In the next step in the MMRCA procurement, which is expected any day, the MoD will ask Eurofighter GmbH and Dassault for fresh commercial bids that will remain valid for the next two years. The two companies will also be asked to finalise their offset proposals. Then the commercial bids will be opened to decide the winner. Finally, an MoD-instituted cost negotiation committee will negotiate a final cost with the winning company.