The Future Of Indian Air Force – MMRCA

  The Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition is nearing completion. Indian Air Chief Marshal PV Naik recently said that the contract for supplying 126 MMRCA fighters to the IAF will be signed soon.

On
July, 2010, IAF completed its evaluation report of the field trials conducted for six global fighters contending for the MMRCA deal.

The evaluation report was then submitted to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) whereon it will be discussed by the Cabinet Committee on Security, after which the process of awarding the contract would be initiated. Once the MoD finalises the shortlisted contenders, the complex process of negotiations will begin leading to the awarding of the deal to the winner.

India's $10.4 billion tender to acquire 126 fighter aircraft

India's planned multi-billion dollar aircraft deal is the biggest contract ever since the 1990s. In 2001, IAF sent out its request for information (RFI) for the 126 fighters. After delays lasting almost 2 years beyond the planned December 2005 issue date, the Ministry of Defence finally announced a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) on August 2007.

Six global fighters – Lockheed Martin's F-16 Super Viper, Eurofighter's Typhoon, Russian United Aircraft Corporation's Mikoyan MiG-35, France's Dassault Aviation's Rafale, Swedish SAAB's Gripen and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet – had submitted their bids in response to it.

According to reports, the Indian government will be buying the first 18 aircraft directly from the manufacturer. The remaining fighters will be built under licence with a transfer of technology (ToT) by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) based in Bangalore, India.

The delivery will start within 36 months of contract signing and will be completed 48 months later.

The competitors for the MMRCA deal

When the RFIs were announced, six contenders bid for the order- the Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Mikoyan MiG-35 and the American F-16IN and F/A-18IN. Out of these six, Russia’s Mikoyan and France’s Dassault companies are regular suppliers of aircraft to the IAF compared to the other four contenders.

The six contending fighters for the deal are the latest combat aircraft that are being developed or fielded today. 
Eurofighter Typhoon

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine canard-delta wing multirole aircraft designed and built by a European consortium of three companies: Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, and EADS working through a holding company Eurofighter GmbH, which was formed in 1986. The aircraft has high agility at supersonic speed and also has a supercruise capability that can fly at sustained supersonic speeds offering high reliability.

Eurofighter is offering the Tranche-3 Typhoon for the Indian requirement, equipped with the Captor-E (CAESAR) AESA radar. The aircraft also has a broad spectrum of operational advantages, such as excellent adaptability to severe weather conditions, high mission effectiveness and survivability in threat situations. EADS has even invited India to become a partner for the Eurofighter Typhoon programme if the Typhoon wins the MMRCA contract, and will be given technological and development participation in future tranches of the Typhoon.

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a twin-engine 4.5 generation carrier-based multirole fighter aircraft. The Super Hornet is a larger and more advanced variant of the F/A-18C/D Hornet.

The single seat F/A-18/E and the two seat F/A-18/F flies greater ranges, with heavier payloads using a more powerful engine which provides greater survivability. Its powerful AN/APG-79 AESA radar has generated significant interest in India. This radar could allow Super Hornets to play a unique role in India’s fighter fleet due to their radar’s performance and information sharing abilities.

Boeing has proposed joint manufacturing of the fighters with Indian partners. It also plans to offset the cost by setting up a $100 million maintenance and training hub in Nagpur, Maharashtra. This is the first time that the Super Hornet has been offered for production in a foreign country.

On the availability of Super Hornet's APG-79 AESA radar, the US government has given its approval but has stated that there would be some restrictions and pre-conditions for the purchase of the aircraft.

Dassault Rafale

The Rafale is a French twin-engined delta-wing agile multi-role 4.5th-generation fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. The Rafale participated the MMRCA tender as a replacement for the Mirage 2000-5.

The fighter aircraft is capable of carrying out a wide range of short and long-range missions that include ground and sea attack, air defence and high accuracy strike or nuclear strike deterrence.

The Rafale has the advantage of being logistically and operationally similar to the Mirage 2000. The aircraft has a distinct advantage as it was used with great success during the Kargil War in 1999.

Since the IAF has already been equipped with the French Mirage 2000 fighters, the inclusion of Rafale would require fewer changes in the existing infrastructure of the IAF, which in turn will reduce cost.

The Transfer of Technology (ToT) is again smooth with no end user restrictions. The French government has already cleared full technology transfer of the Rafale to India, including that of the RBE2-AA AESA radar, which will be integrated with the fighter by 2010, and has also cleared the transfer of
source codes.

Initially it was reported that Rafale was declared out of the race after it did not meet India’s technical evaluation criteria. The recommendation was made by the Technical Evaluation Committee, as Dassault did not provide information on some equipment and add-ons that the IAF wanted in the aircraft. But later on, at a meeting of the Defence Procurement Board, the fighter aircraft was allowed to re-enter the race.

Lockheed Martin F-16 Super Viper

The F-16IN Super Viper is a unique new fighter sharing a heritage with the world's only fifth generation fighters – the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor. The Super Viper has the most advanced technologies and capabilities which include AN/APG-80 AESA radar, Net-Centric Warfare capability, an infrared search and track (IRST) system, advanced survivability features, enhanced high-thrust engines and proven combat and operational effectiveness.

India initially sent the RFI for the F-16C/D Block 52+ configuration aircraft. But, Lockheed Martin proposed the customised F-16IN for the MMRCA competition. If F-16IN wins the contract, then Lockheed Martin will also offer to sell the F-35 lightning aircraft in future as replacements.

But the Indian government and IAF have never seemed very keen on buying the F-16s as the Pakistan Air Force already operates the same warplane. The capabilities of the F-16s also appear to be similar to that of the Mirage 2000s operated by the IAF.

SAAB Gripen IN

The SAAB Gripen is a lightweight single engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company SAAB.

Gripen IN (a version of the Gripen NG- Next Generation) is the most technologically advanced fighter and is equipped with futuristic warfare technologies developed specifically for India. The Gripen NG has increased fuel capacity, more powerful powerplant, higher payload, upgraded avionics and other improvements.

The fighter aircraft has a powerful and proven GE’s F414G engine, AESA radar, advanced communication system, advanced electronic warfare, tactical data link, and advanced weapons capacity. Its other strengths include the ability operate from roads instead of runways if necessary and also reasonable purchase cost.

SAAB, if wins the bid, is willing to form a joint venture with Indian aerospace industry with the aim to develop the next generation of fighters and also provide access to all levels of technology.

Mikoyan MiG-35

The Mikoyan MiG-35 (Fulcrum-F) is a further development of the MiG-29M/M2 and MiG-29K/KUB. The IAF already operates MiG-29s, and the Navy has ordered MiG-29K/KUBs for its INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant-class aircraft carriers.

The single seat version is designated MiG-35 and the two-seat version is MiG-35D. The fighter has vastly improved avionics and weapon systems, notably the new Phazotron Zhuk-AE AESA radar, the RD-33MK engines and the newly designed Optical Locator System (OLS).

The IAF already has maintenance facilities for the MiG-29. Therefore, it will be very much easier to buy the Russian-made aircraft with a minimum of expenditure on infrastructure. Also Russia is willing to give full ToT, which is an added advantage. Russia has provided support for equipments in the past also during international sanctions.

Comparison

All six contenders are equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) airborne radar with only marginal differences in performance. There is also little difference in their armament carrying capacity and, where needed, such changes/modifications should be possible.

The Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet are all twin-engine fighters in the 25-30 tonne class. All of them are reportedly very expensive. The MiG-35, also a twin-engined aircraft, was first unveiled at Aero India Show-2007 at Bangalore, India. Its official price is still unknown but will preferably be lower than the other expensive bidders. The other two competitors, F-16IN and Gripen IN are relatively lightweight fighters but can carry a weapon load of around 8000 kg. Both are highly manoeuvrable multirole fighters.

Conclusion

The final chapter on the 'mother of all deals' – the MMRCA competition – will be written soon and major issues like access to technology, technology transfer, reliable spares and maintenance support throughout the projected life of the aircraft, etc will play key role in the decision making. There are media reports that political factor is likely to influence the choice of the MMRCA other than the performance and cost.

The contract is likely to be wrapped up sometime next year, and the MMRCA is expected to join the IAF fleet in early 2017.

Currently, the strength of the IAF is 34 squadrons (over 640 aircraft). By 2022, the IAF fighters’ fleet would comprise of the Sukhois, indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas', MMRCA, indigenous Medium Combat Aircraft and fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) that India is developing jointly with the Russians.

Finally, whatever be the result of this on-going competition, the inclusion of these MMRCA will definitely form a strong backbone for the Indian Air Force.

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