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.