Selling BMWs to farmers - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 25 February 2008

Selling BMWs to farmers

Published in Business Standard
26th February 2008

By the 6th of March, six global aircraft majors --- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Eurofighter GmbH, Gripen International and RAC-MiG --- must submit offers for selling India 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). Worth an estimated $11 billion, this could be one of the biggest arms sales ever. For Indian defence planning, it would be the most expensive folly ever.

In acquiring yet another type of fighter aircraft, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will compound an existing problem of interoperability. There are major differences between Russian block equipment (the MiG series, and the Sukhoi-30MKI) and Western bloc equipment (the Mirage-2000 and the Jaguar). As a result, each IAF airbase is geared to support a certain type of aircraft; other types cannot just fly in and operate from there without major logistic preparations.

Consider an imaginary war with Pakistan. If India were launching a ground offensive, say around Lahore, the IAF would support that thrust with as many combat aircraft as possible. It would need to bomb Pakistani airbases to prevent the Pakistan Air Force from taking off; it would strike Pakistani ground forces and the infrastructure that supports them; it would also perform other missions like photoreconnaissance. Since the airbases around Lahore have just a small number of aircraft, fighters based in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and the eastern sector will need to be re-located to Punjab, just before the battle begins.

That is where the problem begins. A Mirage 2000 cannot easily relocate from its permanent base in Gwalior to an airbase in, say, Pathankote. The Pathankote airbase supports Mig-series aircraft; its maintenance personnel, spare parts inventory, stocks of bombs and rockets and operational practices are geared towards MiGs. Today, if a Mirage 2000 were to land in Pathankote, it would require an entire support team from Gwalior to make it take off again. In wartime, relocating a squadron of Mirage-2000s would be a major logistical exercise and a clear signal to Pakistan of an impending attack.

This problem is already set to worsen when India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), called the Tejas, enters service with the IAF. Purchasing a new MMRCA will invite a full-blown logistic nightmare. 

Besides the need for inter-base operability, there is another good reason to abandon the MMRCA purchase: today’s IAF simply cannot exploit the capabilities of the aircraft it is setting out to buy. The technological excellence of a modern MMRCA, like the Eurofighter or the Rafale, does not lie in its airframe, engines, or its flying performance. Instead, its advantages lie in avionics, and in its net-centric capability, which means that the aircraft and its pilot are seamlessly integrated into an electronic battlefield management system. This system receives inputs --- in real time --- from a comprehensive network of radars, airborne warning systems and satellites; and it displays these inputs in the form of a battlefield picture. The controllers then allocate targets to Indian fire units, which could be fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles or even army rocket batteries. Air forces like the American, British and French can electronically assign a target to an airborne fighter and automatically upload a digital map of the target area.

India is far from such a network. Our radars operate in small clumps, our data links are not in place, and our airspace management network is inferior even to Pakistan’s. Many of our key systems work on incompatible protocols. An economically resurgent India can afford to buy the MMRCA. But doing so would be like a farmer with a bumper crop busting his money on a BMW with a city navigation system and great FM stereo. He wouldn’t use most of the high-tech systems. 

So what is India’s smarter alternative? The path is illuminated by an earlier IAF procurement, the carefully structured Sukhoi-30MKI fighter. Instead of accepting a ready-built Russian aircraft for fancy prices, the IAF creatively married Sukhoi’s airframe and engine excellence, with an advanced avionics package made from Israeli and French components. The Sukhoi-30MKI’s avionics were tailor-made for IAF requirements; India did not pay fancy prices for capabilities that would never be used. The Sukhoi experience was further refined when the IAF went about upgrading the MiG series fighters; advanced avionics will extend their service lives at minimal cost.

India must stick with a medium fighter that it already flies. The IAF has long pressed for increasing the size of its Mirage 2000 fleet (currently 52 aircraft), a fighter that its pilots hold in high regard. An advanced variant of the Mirage 2000 was one of the options in the MMRCA purchase until Paris replaced it with the newer, more expensive Rafale fighter, informing New Delhi that the Mirage 2000 production line was being wound up. An opportunity lies here for India; Paris would most likely grab the chance to sell India the Mirage 2000 production line, and benefit from production royalties and the opportunity to involve French avionics companies like Thales and Thomson CSF in developing an aviation package customised for India. France realises that American and Russian marketing clout in New Delhi leaves it with little chance of selling the Rafale.

Today, no official or politician is willing to tell the Indian public the unpalatable truth that the IAF is not technologically geared to operate highly networked fighter aircraft. Instead, it is more convenient to make grandiose declarations about providing the military with the world’s best equipment and then stonewalling the purchase with layers of procedures. Opting for a near-state-of-the-art, made-in-India Mirage 2000 variant requires not just a fine understanding of defence planning but also the courage to make and publicly defend a subjective military decision. Neither quality has been in evidence in the MoD so far.


  1. Ajai, the most sensible view of the whole MMRCA tamasha, so far. I have always of the view that Gripen is the best choice, if Mirage, as you suggested is not available to procure in numbers. Anyway LCA is now no more than a tech demonstrator.. with every one mocking us with "partnering in development".

    Shelve the LCA, procure Gripen or Mirage in 250+ numbers, without giving in to hype of other platforms.

  2. Logistics has long been an unexamined problem in the IAF - and this article really opened my eyes to the obvious issues out there. But I don't agree with the solution.

    Why not simply upgrade our services to the network-centric model pioneered by the West? Like you say - we can now afford it. And given our "strategic reach" ambitions, we need it. The IAF runs enough outdated aircraft as it is. Farmers don't have to remain farmers.

    The LCA may look like a tech demonstrator, but I think that shelving it would be a bad call. Too much has been invested in it. Add to that some serious R&D expertise and a decent future defense industry that are growing from this, and you have a strong case for the project. Sure we need to streamline the management of the damn thing and increase interaction with the end customers (IAF, Navy). But we are really onto something here, and should bite the bullet and persist.

    Foreign equipment never meets our requirements 100%, and customisation relies heavily on foreign govts. selling us rather classified tech.

  3. these were posted on the forum Ajai had a run in with a year or so back, in response. given they are considered responses and not ad hominem attacks on Ajai, I think they are worth crossposting.
    havent put names whatever coz they arent here to defend themselves and these things tend to turn into a flamewar, which this blog is (and should) remain above


    What he simply doesnt understand is that the IAF are undertaking massive steps to engage in netcentricity and upgrade the entire ADGES.

    Please consider:

    First the hardware:..this because he implies nothing is being done to address the "clumps" of sensor management..

    Spyder, Akash - all come with own dedicated radars which feed into the ADGES- eliminating several blindspots. An Akash for instance has the Rohini radar which is a full blown 3D surveillance radar.

    Additional procurement-

    30 LLTRs for the Mountain areas, PRC etc. 21 LLLWRs from DRDO. Seven Indra-2 PC's - not to mention 4 more Aerostats, 3 Phalcons and 3 DRDO AEW & C units. Then the 9 or something Elta Medium power radars. Now DRDO has a program for MPRs to pick up the rest.

    Each BMD system when deployed, will be a stand alone group with an LRTR which is arguably one of the most powerful mobile systems ever developed and a MFCR. Estimates for these go upto 30-50 odd groups.

    Now the software- to rebut whatever Shukla is claiming about netcentricity:

    First- the MKIs themselves are netcentric. Unlike what Shukla claims about capabilities the IAF will never use! - all Sukhois of the 30 class come with Russian datalinks. They can be seen in the cockpit, check the left with the screen and buttons. A pack of Sukhois can exchange targeting data amongst themselves and can link to the ground as well! So scratch that claim of the MKI being "what the IAF can manage" alone. The IAF uses the MKI as a force multiplier because of this!

    Second: In terms of overall software comms management- the IAF is switching to SDR's- software defined radios, which can be programmed to be interoperable, with both IAF & IA protocols!

    In terms of ADGES and Sector control software- there is the FADHS developed by TATA SED which is already deployed across multiple IAF locations. As the name suggests, it provides the complete air picture to the commander & what his options are.

    In terms of communication links- even though mentioned before- the IAF has both conventional and wireless as well as fiber optic links! Obviously they will not tom tom it.

    Third- the overall integrated command and control system, the indigenous IACCS at the national level is to be deployed next year! Reference recent statement by FH Major.

    Fourth: The Phalcons, the DRDO AEW & C all come with dedicated datalinks, all of which will interface with both fighters and ground facilities. The UAVs such as Searcher 2s and Herons all datalink information back to nodal centers which are then pushed upwards for targeting information.

    Fifth: The IAF has a datalink project currently underway- again they will use a concept similar to the SDR, to datalink several categories together with software and not hardware customisation alone. This approach is also being adopted for a new national IFF system!

    So Shukla is completely off base when he claims that the IAF has no idea of net centricity! This is NOT the IA we are talking about. Second, even the IA has made huge strides in deploying technology, only being a much more massive force, it proceeds very conservatively. For eg, how long did it take before the IA started fielding EW units? In the IAF they appeared within the space of a few years.

    So how will the MMRCA be inducted? It will have a datalink capability that will be software defined and be programmed to interface with what we have, by Indians with OEM providing support. Security is addressed to a large degree. In fact, even if it didnt, it would provide a huge capability, a single fighter, even if it can ONLY datalink to fellow ones would still be able to allow its peers to approach undetected and engage! And this, when the IAF is planning to do far more.

    Coming to MMRCA and need- Shukla has no idea of costs and the fleet requirements! A Sukhoi guzzles fuel like there is no tomorrow. The pilots pull 180 hrs minimum per year- calculate the fuel requirements, the spares burn!

    India needs a medium fighter in between the Sukhois and Tejas to provide a decent punch at medium affordable cost. A pure heavy fighter force will not be something India can afford! By the end of the MKI program, the IAF will have 230 Flankers- one of the largest heavy fighter fleets in the world!

    Next, the claims of a logistic menagerie- while true to some extent, they miss out on the fact that retirals are happening at a rapid pace, and would be even faster but for the fact that we are lacking airframes already!!

    By 2020, all MiG-21s will be out of service -seems a long time away? It isnt! By then, all MiG-27s will also be out, bar a couple of squadrons. By 2025, Jags will be heading out! So Shukla should understand that as aircraft go out, they are being replaced with far more capable types!
    And ultimately, there will be some 3 types in IAF service- LCA, MKI, MMRCA- dont see the Mirages & MiG-29s lasting too far beyond another 15 years either.

    Coming to the Mirage purchase- what he doesnt understand is that our current Mirages are also not upto one standard! To be brought upto current standards, Dassault is charging ~40 Million apiece with warstocks and what not! And almost 3/4ths of the fleet has already seen extensive wear and tear! So what talk of India should stick to a fighter it already flies! Why, if it acquires more Mirages, it will have to base them out of one base (Gwalior) and invest correspondingly in more eqpt. There is a world of a difference between the Mirage 2000-9 and Mirage 2000 H.

    Second- if India invests Billions- it should get the latest technology! Shukla messes up by thinking that its like the Army where medium grade stuff can hold its own since the enemy is similarly equipped and mass makes for victory! It cant- you dont have 3000 tanks with huge sandmodels, you have 600 fighters out of which you can deploy around 400 and attrition will KILL the air effort. Technology PREVENTS attrition. Training alone cannot suffice!

    Furthermore, you are investing for the next 40 years, not just tomorrow or today! The Mirage 2000 has had its day- even a few years back it was struggling in airframe performance vs the newer 4th gen birds. Twenty years from now, it will be thoroughly outmanouevered. And no, avionics alone dont suffice! If so, the IAF wouldnt have spent valuable time and money putting TVC on its MKIs.

    Third- deploying aircraft to different bases. Again Shukla is stuck in a time warp, and has spoken to someone who is thinking of the IAF of the 80's! In early days, with ranges of 400 odd km and a radius of 150 km with barely enough for diversion, the IAF had to deploy its aircraft far at the front! Today, a MKI squadron can take off from down south (say), refuel over the Punjab, strike targets and return back to its operating base! Why forward deploy aircraft when the entire squadron can range so far!

    That is the entire point of the MMRCA acquisition - to get long ranged aircraft with capabilities beyond the MiG-21 class and to operate them in flexible ways!


    Shukla is totally wrong about this one. IAF has many projects that will make it worth every penny.

    I am short of time so will only make small points about each -

    1) Aerospace Command. You may have heard about it. IAF is extremely keen on it. Space based Satellite Surveillance and Recc. system. Israeli satellite will be used by India as well. Then we have our own CARTOSAT and RISAT series. Google for more info.

    2) IACCS:

    3) Passive Surveillance system [divya dhristi] from DRDO.

    4) GLONASS & GAGAN satellite networks. That will make our airspace management way beyond pukes.

    5) AWACS: Phalcon and indigenous AWE&Cs.

    6) Project Datalink:


    Posted 11/27/06 15:27
    $1B Aircraft Datalink Effort Takes Off in India

    The Indian Air Force (IAF) has launched a five-year, $1 billion effort to digitally link a variety of aircraft via satellite to ground stations.

    The first of four phases will start in December, a senior IAF official said. Phase 1 will develop and install software to link aircraft and ground stations. Field trials will be carried out in Phase 2, with any necessary platform modifications made in Phase 3. Under Phase 4, the aircraft will be networked with ground stations. Details on the satellite component of this project remain classified.

    Program officials are seeking one or more contractors to provide systems, technological expertise and operational assistance to the IAF. Requests for proposals will be sent to companies in India, Britain, France, Israel, Singapore and United States.

    The IAF has nominated Bangalore-based, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) to oversee and integrate the project, said a senior HAL official. Details will be firmed up after outside contractors are shortlisted.

    The IAF official said the project aims to develop an Aerospace Planning and Execution system through which network-centric applications can be carried out.

    Service officials plan to network a few aircraft and ground stations in an Operational Data Link pilot project, allowing the development of standard operating procedures, the training of operational and maintenance personnel, and giving the Air Force experience integrating platform mission computers, the IAF official said.

    The networked aircraft will include shooters — fighters, armed helicopters, transport aircraft and sensors — airborne warning and control system aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and space and ground radars.

    The command-and-control ground stations will include real-time centers in the theater of operations as well as at the regional and base levels to monitor the common operational picture and initiate action. Centers that do not operate in real time will track and allocate assets and plan missions.

    The data links between mobile platforms will include V/UHF and L-band radios and fiber-optic networks.

    Reply 3:

    Procurement/development of AWACS, LRTR, IACCS etc clearly indicate IAF is embracing net-centricity in a big way and by the tome M-MRCA is inducted, we will no doubt have the capability to fully exploit their capability.

    Here are some reference materials I found. You guys may already have read the same.

    Air Force Readies For Net Centric Warfare Capability In The Future


    Transformation IAF

  4. Hope Ajai doesnt get offended by posts referring to him by his second name. it may appear rude, though i think the original posters were simply countering his statements and not mocking him. if i had noticed it ealrir i would have added a ji to it. :-) with apologies to those who made those statements - dont think theyd have minded.

    but i think it should be clear that the iaf is embracing netcentricity in a big way. the phalcons will come in by next year by which time, the fighterz will feed off them. the sukhois already have datalinks.

    and the french/israeli stuff is not all that critical as compared to the basic russian gear such as the radar and what not.

  5. Normally Mr. Ajai Shukla's articles are thought-provoking and insightful. This article falls short. At best, it lists the challenges that IAF will face during the MRCA induction. But the fact that IAF is addressing most the issues systematically is completely ignored. The MRCAs will not land in India before 2012, giving IAF ample time to implement its plans and be ready to exploit them when they do. And please, we don't need last century's planes for the coming decades. Need to look forward!

  6. i have to agree with the comments above- thanks Ankur for those informative posts. Shukla-ji needs to look into the IAFs investment into the netcentric business and he'll soon get to know that there is serious money and investment into the entire concept of the MMRCA and the MKI fleet. the IAF is currently earmarking AFB as MKI bases, and they will be based out of these places, get into Pak and come back, even extra refuellers are not required, as a couple of sq aircraft can act as buddy refuellers.

    coming to buraidiah, sure rhymes with "no friend of india" as can be made clear from all his other comments on this blog! gripen - the shortest ranged fighter in the competition, and one with the least punch consequently, and he wants the lca cancelled, because "everyone is mocking" india..who is this everyone, pakistan?

    i just read air marshal rajkumars highly informative "the tejas story" from manohar books, and the work mentioned is truly worldclass. one cant help but make out that the air marshal is confident that this aircraft will come of age in IAF colors, and even the kaveri and mmr are but a matter of time, and effort. of course, buraidiah will disagree- but he must, after all its not in paks best interests for india to make the lca,


  7. Thanks for those counter-views... I greatly appreciate your having posted them. Let me rebut them though.

    Firstly, the argument is about the MMRCA, not about the Tejas. The Tejas is, at last, on the right path and I've posted an article today (from HAL Bangalore) on the subject of the LCA.

    The question my article asks is a simple one: should India spend $11 billion on a state-of-the-art fighter, when it does not have the net-centric capabilities in place to exploit it... or should India buy a near-state-of-the-art fighter for some $5 billion, and pump in the saved $6 billion into ramping up its netword capabilities? Remember, the option to upgrade the fighter's avionics always exists.

    For those who say: Simple... spend $11 billion on the new fighters AND ramp up the network capabilities, all I can say is that India doesn't have that luxury. There are finite means and we have to make hard choices to get by within those means.

    And for those who say: the network is BEING addressed and upgraded; the new radars coming into service are BEING integrated into a network; money is BEING spent on bringing the network up to scratch... all I can say is that planners within the IAF and the DRDO, with whom I have spoken in detail, all admit that it will take at least 15 years to implement integrated network capabilities.

    If anyone believes that a sortie of Sukhois exchanging targeting date amongst themselves is network capabilities, I simply don't agree.

    The datalinks from UAVs that someone writes are "pushed upwards" (sounds great!) are, I'm afraid, not. They come in real time only to the command posts today. Unless you count "pushed upwards" as delivered by a motorcycle rider to Corps HQ after the mission is completed.

    The argument I make seems to have been completely misunderstood: my argument is not against the Tejas, or in favour of "gas-guzzling" Sukhois. I am simply arguing about the MMRCA purchase. I'm saying buy a usable platform (I recommend the Mirage 2000) rather than a gizmo (like the Rafale from the same company) whose capabilities you will use fully only after a decade and a half.

    The economics of the purchase will change dramatically in favour of India by purchasing the production line from Dassault and customising avionics to suit the requirements of the coming decade. And when we do get netcentric (in 15 years, earliest, as planners say) we can upgrade the avionics accordingly.

    You buy what you need TODAY, TOMORROW and perhaps DAY AFTER TOMORROW. You don't splash precious money on stuff that is nowhere in sight.

    Someone writes that "mass makes for victory" only in the army. Hello! Get real... go and ask the IAF's planners at TAC-D about that! Mass makes for victory on land, at sea, in the air, and it will in space as well. Any planner in any service will tell you that. But my argument is not about buying up a mass of crappy equipment. It's about buying equipment that you can use rather than kit that sounds great in discussions and sales pamphlets, but which you cannot use for a decade-and-a-half.

    Aerospace Command! Give me a break!! Does anyone know where Aerospace Command is today?

    The entire problem with Indian defence planning is that it is clouded up with political compulsions, data about hardware and false assessments of capability which come from everyone trying to project themselves as being far ahead of where they really are. You need to get real... you need to ask the hard questions to the services: Friends, forget the jargon, where are you TODAY. And give me a realistic timeline for what you are implementing for TOMORROW.

    And when you get the real answer to that... you'll come to the same conclusion that I have. Let's use the money for building the capabilities that you pretend that you already have. Let's not use it for sexy platforms that you are far from being able to use.


  8. Ajai,

    Have you considered the possibility that you might have not got the "whole" picture with your today /tomorrow kind of scenario and "usability" vs "gizmos" and capabilities which we will use 15 years down the line kind of thing ?..

    For one the newer technology gives quantum jumps in capabilities and not all of that is avionics alone.The newer platforms have far better field performance than the Mirage 2000 you want to bring back from it's grave.

    That apart, this netcentricity is a quantum innovation and a big "mulitplier" / non linear effect kind of thing.. That will trump the "mass wins battles" kind of thing. The mass argument holds only when the capabilities on both sides are roughly comparable.(rifle vs rifle, sword vs sword kind, same gen tank vs tank). Consider what happened when guns were put in the filed. Overnight massed infantry and artillery made the cavalry and spears , bows and arrows quaint things relegated to text books. Same when the Maxim machine guns were introduced.. A few such guns could out gun massed infantry..Same with networked warfare. You get massive advantage over the guys who dont have it. That is a capability that will be built in gradually and is a journey.. Also , the MRCA will realistically start coming in numbers from 2015 onwards. So that way you are not too far away from "will use only a decade and a half away". A mirage 2000 on the other hand is already largely at the end of it's lifecycle.

  9. shuklaji,

    you missed the points. the iaf is implementing these massive steps in stages over the next decade because it involves a complete overhaul of its sensors and way it works. if u ask around for instance over how mkis conduct intercepts vs non datalink ones, you will be surprised. point is that as the iaf steps into these shoes over the next decade, it needs to be equipped with aircraft that can exploit these capabilities accordingly. estimates put the mmrca program ending at 2020- if we are lucky, so why shud we buy an obsolete aircraft today, that cant stand upto the fancy network centric system once it is ready?

    you say india doesnt have the luxury of doing both n/w centric upgradation and buying new fighters. it wont work like that. one way or the other, you are retiring aircraft and entering a stage, where massive investments in aircraft and infrastructure are necessary. you cannot spend on one at the expense of the other, and hope that it is good enough - you invest now for a decade from now. this is what even the army is doing. almost all of indias aircraft fleet, bar the mkis and a handful of jaguars and 10 new mirages is 15 years old or more. they will all have to be replaced over the coming 2 decades- its a given. similarly, the iaf's prime radars and other items are also being upgraded or replaced. they take less peacetime wear and tear but its being done.

    also the technology that underpins these decisions is important. mass does not make for victory in air warfare irrespective of what tacde says, i am an airforce brat, and i know that indian air force has come up with methods and techniques to counteract limited availability of high tech. but now, things are and should be different. when we started having trouble at kargil against pak army being hard to target, we didnt send more airccraft, we sent in the most high tech one which was mirage for us.

    further, all the aircraft that you say are not as fancy as the mmrca are actually as fancy and claim the same stuff. the mki has a russian datalink system which works with both ground control and air to air. the mirage 2000-9s also have a datalink that is either link-16 if customer wants us interoperability or for us gear preference(like pak is getting) or a new thales built one. these are the SAME systems that are coming on all the MMRCA- f/a-18 e/f will have link 16, f-16 will have link 16, rafale and eads eurofighter may have other ones, gripen has both link 16 and swedish datalink on offer, mig-25 says they will put russian one in, or customer specified one ( whether they can do it or not is different)

    so this is a false assumption.

    now coming to buying a near state of the art fighter and putting in 6 billion - you make very valid point but for the fact, that "near state of the art fighters" are not available in the numbers we require.

    france can supply us the 150 mirages from own stocks and refurbished ones- and, they will have the same problem of spares and lifecycle management which our migs have now. the mirage production line, shuklaji has closed down. france offered it to us, we didnt take it, its gone.
    expect atrociously priced spares and declining serviceability if we have a huge mirage fleet. we can manage currently because there are only 3 understrength squadrons of mirages you see.

    upgrades are also expensive. r&d costs for upgrades are usally split amongst participating countries, now if india alone proceeds to keep upgrading its systems, who pays the piper?

    this is an unworkable idea

    now the other theme you are beleiving in is that avionics upgrades on a "near state of the art" fighter can make it equal to the latest ones. yes, today, true it workks but aero performance is a big deal

    see eurofighter, rafale can supercruise, they have very good supersonic performance which makes them good at beyond visial range combat, like our mki which is also a powerful plane

    f/a-18 ef and f-16 compensate via worldclass avionics which are very tightly integrated with airframe, you cant just pull out all their stuff and put it in another aircraft to get the same performance. thing is that americans are the ones touting that avionics make up for airframe performance because their planes are the worst in the lot in terms of airframe raw performance. the f-18 is a bomb truck and f-16 is old, despite all the stuff added to its airframe.

    gripen is better than f-16 but it is too compact and doesnt have the range and payload combination

    mig-35 has thrust vectoring and brand new avionics but why buy russian after how much control they have on us already

    so fifteen years from now, the mirages that you support - are not available, in terms of planes or spares, and secondly, will be thoroughly outclassed by the opposition. shuklaji you have to look at all aspects of the problem, not just one, that is cost. the plaaf is now inducting 300-400 flankers of various marks. even the mirage 2000-5 would have a hard time dealing with them today since the flanker is capable of very hard raw performance and has older avionics (chinese planes), now with newer avionics it will be even worse. that is what worries the taiwanese as well since they had 60 mirage 2000-5's.
    now u can say but india has mki's- but these will be outnumbered. some will also need to be factored in vs pakistan. basically we need the mmrca alos to be capable of defeating flanker planes in the plaaf, and just avionics wont do. you have to understand air warfare shuklaji, a planes accelration, top speed and all will make an impact, and that is why rafale and eurofighter are good. f/a-18 e/f can barely manage, but it has avionics far beyond what is on mirage 2000 series. to upgrade mirage 2000 of iaf now, to earlier rdy (not aesa) radars and modernise them we are paying 40 million $ a plane. u can imagine what cost will be if we try to really reach cutting edge, and even then, problems of airframe performance and age will remain.

    not to mention, that over time, these older aircraft are simply not good enough agaisnt future threats. today alreadt mmrca is somewhat obsolete against jsf type fighters, but it can "manage", twenty years from now, when mmrca will be backbone of iaf fleet, a mirage replacement will be as out of place as duck out of water.

    capabilities are not done overnight, as they say, you build a navy, india is now building a worldclass n/w af, but we need to work on all aspects not just one and upgrade avionics on rest and hope it works. it wont.

    coming to uavs and how feed goes, it goes to command post from where it will go to ahq and sector hq via the new comms network and iaccs which is being deployed next yr

  10. Others have already said this, but just to reiterate, even if you argue that India will be only able to fully exploit the MRCA after 15 years, that's still OK. It takes time to exploit any platform after induction anyway. You have to ramp up infrastructure, logistics, tactics, training, etc. The MRCA induction will not be complete before 2020, which is 12 years from now. And network capabilities may take 15 years to fully mature, but within the next 5 years, they will be enough to start being really useful.
    As I said earlier, we really need to look forward and remember that any platform we buy today will be only fully inducted at the earliest in 10 years, and then used for the next 30 years at least. M2K just doesn't fit the bill, and for that matter, neither do F16 and F18. India should choose between Rafale or EF, even if that means getting fewer airframes initially. My personal favorite - Rafale.

  11. Well said manu

    Rafale or euro are indeed the best choice

    less bother of sanctions and armtwisting and india has worked with bae before so thats a huge plus

  12. Mr. Shukla, you are probably the first commentator from mainstream media to have opined against the MRCA purchase. All other journalists actually post near-promotional 'campaigns' for various contenders.

    Your view that MRCA purchase will result in a logistics maintenance "nightmare" is accurate. The IAF flies 8 types of fighters, which is globally the most diversified fleet. In contrast, discounting bombers and transporters, the US airforce operates only 2 fighters i.e. F-16 and F-15, and the US navy, only the F-18. The same is true of France, UK and increasingly Russia also.

    The Tejas has been rated very high in maneuverability by IAF pilots. Like the Mirage-2000, it shares a delta platform and has very similar "feel" to its flight. Also, its max. weapon carriage and range is equal to the current MiG-29s of the IAF.

    The only difference between itself and the Mirage-2000 is max. weapon load capacity (difference of 1,500 kgs). But, considering that the normal fighter config. of ANY fighter in most mission profiles does not require a weapon load-out exceeding approx. 3,000 kgs, the Tejas can easily supplant the Mirage-2000. Mirage's utility lies in precision bombing (which Tejas can also perform with its Israeli target pod), with the only difference of a higher bomb load than Tejas.

    I agree with your view that if the MRCA deal is "destined", then at the most, only Mirage-2000 can be procured while ignoring the other fighters, which are totally unknown and unfamiliar to the IAF. Many are also unexperienced. If I'm not mistaken, past commonality and experience in operation with the IAF is a preferred prerequisite placed before the 6 contenders. Leaving the others aside, the MiG-35 too does not meet this criterion, because though prior experience in operating its previous variant is there, it is totally untested even by Russia and is not a proven product at all.

    As regards netcentric warfare, Tejas can also be installed with comparable datalinks like that of Gripen. As per your report on AESA radars for Tejas, it is already clear that components needn't be restricted by the aircraft, i.e. an airforce needn't buy an entire plane just to avail of one or two important components. Thus, by acquiring the AESA radar for Tejas, the necessity of a foreign MRCA pre-installed with one, will decrease even further.

    Now with AESA radars installed too, the only area where Tejas may possibly lag behind Rafale and Typhoon may be the sophistication of A2G weaponry. It can be hoped that Russian A2G weapons are almost at par with European and US ones.

    Thank you.

  13. Further to my previous post, it should be noted that the Typhoon operates the Captor radar, which is not an AESA radar, but an older pulse-doppler type radar. It is similar to the Elta radar being currently developed for the Tejas.

    The Gripen also uses a pulse-doppler radar only.


  14. Hi Abhiman, the Eurofighter chief has confirmed to me that they have successfully developed an AESA radar, and that the Eurofighters now being rolled out are coming fitted with it.

    Apparently HAL also believes that, which is why they are talking to Eurofighter about configuring it for the LCA.

    The fundamental flaw in the logic of most people who are arguing on this blog in favour of the six contenders for the MMRCA contract: they seem to believe that any aircraft except these six is "outdated". How flawed that logic is!

    If one goes by the standards of the F-22, all six of the MMRCA contenders are also "outdated". Nobody buys cutting-edge because cutting-edge exists only in labs, and this year's cutting edge is outdated next year. (Actually, more like next month)

    People who are planning defence in the real world, therefore, don't keep hankering for "cutting edge" aircraft. They look hard at what their threats are, what their current equipment allows in terms of compatibility, and what their wallets say. Defence planning in the real world is constrained by opportunity costs. That means that every billion that you spend on one platform is a billion that is not available for another.

    And if you draw up a list of India's defence needs today, an 11 billion dollar MMRCA would come pretty low down on that. Surely, getting the three services onto a common network rates higher!

    Ankur, you may be an "air force brat", as you put it, but the tactics used by the IAF are made by TAC-D, so I would rather go by what they say.

    You are all correct in your beliefs that the IAF is putting money into building a network. But the gap between putting money... and actually having a network functioning... is, according to IAF planners about 15 years.

    You don't buy aircraft with network capability in anticipation of a network coming in 15 years down the line. You spend the bucks instead on creating the network first... and when that is almost done you buy the compatible aircraft.

    That's how you plan defence. But if the aim is to feel good about having a high-tech fighter (while ignoring the fact that it's capabilities are currently unusable), that's another matter.

    The sad truth is that the enemy won't be convinced. He knows you can't exploit the equipment.

    From each of these points of view... a Mirage 2000 will do.

    Anonymous, you are entirely wrong when you say that the MMRCA contenders' capability is "a quantum jump" over that of the Mirage 2000. We are not talking theory here... go and speak to some of the American pilots who participated in Indo-US exercises and they will tell you that the upgraded MiG-21 BISON is a very close match for the F-15s that they brought for the exercise. An upgraded and retrofitted Mirage 2000 will be far superior to the MiG-21.

  15. Mr. Shukla I think regardless of arguments and counter-arguments, it may be unfortunate that despite an indigenous modern fighter in the last stage of completion, the establishment is proposing to purchase expensive foreign fighters.

    My view is not based on so-called "swadeshi" argument, but rather that this purchase may be unnecessary and expensive. It is also an outcome of "banana republic" policies.

    It may be mentioned that Pakistan, despite having no technological base exceeding repair and overhaul, has effectively managed its JF-17 project, even though they are aware that it is barely equivalent to the existing F-16 fighters in PAF.

    What may be even more notable is how an 'enthusiastic' Pak media, an encouraging Pak Air Force, and an effective project management team comprising the PAF, army and govt. look forward eagerly towards inducting the JF-17.

    In contrast, in India the media canvasses for foreign hardware in adjective news reports, while running 'campaigns' against indigenous development; the air force is non-committal and is "carelessly" disconnected from Tejas' project management (changes ASRs mid-stream and complains of low thrust after 7 years of test-flights). In a manner of "double-standard", IAF has no problem in sending RFPs to "fresh" and still unproven Typhoon and MiG-35, while simultaneously mentioning that Tejas "has to prove itself" before giving more orders than the 20 odd, which it gave reluctantly.

    Now regarding AESA radars, the "hype" about the same is negated, now that it is seen that it can be sold as a separate component to Tejas itself, and not "bundled" with entire fighters (similar to Internet Explorer vis-a-vis Windows). The same is true of the Israeli target pod of Tejas (present in Israeli F-16s), and the ability to install an advanced network suite of choice. Hence, the Tejas will not be inferior than any of the MRCA contenders in terms of technology.

    In terms of external payload, the Tejas can carry the payloads of F-16 and F-18 in normal fighter configs i.e. 2000-3000 kgs, for similar ranges.
    Thus, an MRCA may not be required at all, unless the max. payload capacities of the contenders is meant to be used for nuclear weapon delivery.

    Mr. Shukla, now that the Tejas also has AESA radar and Israeli target pod, I may request you to actually enumerate the so-called 'capabilities' of the 6 MRCA contenders---as is often claimed---that the Tejas may not have. Note that Tejas will also have a datalink capability that will be constantly upgraded to global standards.

    Thank you.

  16. Mr. Shukla, as regards net-centric capabilities, it may be mentioned that shortly the Akash will be inducted by the IAF and possibly by the Army also. This will be followed by the induction of PAD-AAD by 2011.

    Thus, as the Tejas, Akash and PAD-AAD are all developed by DRDO or its subsidiaries, the linkage or integration of Tejas' downlink with the radars of Akash and PAD-AAD will be seamless.
    In contrast, purchasing a foreign MRCA, with the AESA radar from possibly yet another third-party, to be integrated with Israeli or French SAMs will indeed be what you have rightly called a "logistical nightmare".

    As you have the privilege of closely interacting with IAF and TAC-D officials, I request you to please list the features or capabilities that the MRCA contenders supposedly have, which so warrants a "pressing" purchase.

    Thank you.

  17. Hi Ajai

    I am an airforce brat who has seen how TACDE works close up..we make do, so quantity is = mass effect = force multiplication
    But now things are changing, since technology is more easily available both local and abroad
    Coming to mirage 2000 where are these mirage 2000 sir, they are simply not available and as we have stated mirage 2000 is not competitive against the future flankers and threat projections of china and pakistan both
    so pls understand

    also, pls realise the context in which us pilots say bison is equal to the F-15- yes within exercise constraints
    try seeing what happens when you send a flight of bisons up against f-15s when nobody sets roe limited to gwalior range
    your bisons will be out of fuel in two bvr passes
    just kindly compare the performance of each platform, airframe and avionics

  18. Hmm.. "Selling BMWs go farmers" . Why not ?. They actually sell like hotcakes. Consider "farmers" like Amitabh Bacchan, or the "humble farmer" in Karnataka.. our own "mannina maga" (son of the soil) former PM Deve Gowda, also kisans like Chaudry Devi Lal, Chandra Sekhar and Ajit Singh.. why the list is endless. I am sure each on in this list has multiple BMWs, Mercs, Porche s and other cars. Even their sons and grandsons have similar cars.. "Mannina Maga's" grandson.. around 19 years or so old recently gate crashed into a late night eating joint in his Porsche Cayenne SUV and pretty much bashed up the place when they refused to serve him.

    The farmers seem to know how to use the BMWs, Porsches and Mercs..Any highway around bangalore you can see a couple of them flash by you. So what makes you think that the IAF will not be able to use their planes as well?

  19. Ankur, I may also pose the question asked to Mr. Shukla to you, as you also claim to have access to TAC-D : what capabilities do the MRCA contenders have that the Tejas does not; or in other words, how does the Tejas lack behind the MRCA contenders that an immediate purchase of MRCA is needed ?


  20. Ajai, You have obviously researched this subject before you blogged it. Regret to inform you that your Gen about the IAF's capabilities is upto 10 years old! Its the "capability" changes that have led to "doctrinal" changes and the MMRCA is a missing tool that will slot in perfectly. Your wartime scenario depiction was pre-historic. It won't happen that-a-way anymore. you broad-brushed on the MiG series & Su-30s, branding them as "Russian" as different from Mirages. Then you went on to say that modern fighters are all about avionics. Well, peep into a "Russian" cockpit someday (a recent IAF one) & then differenciate it from a "Western" cockpit. If you can tell the difference, a lot of folks will salute you! If this countries strength is its Unity in Diversity 'cause an Indian from any part of the country has an Indian heart, its the same for our fighters. There are some "Brains" still available in the forces - Trust them! The IAFs strength is its diversity with a common "Heart". This has been duly ensured. Case in point - The most potent fighter of the last few Indo-US exercises turned out to be the lowly MiG-21 in its new avtar called the "Bison". "Air Dominance" is noww the new mantra - this term was not pulled out of a hat!!! Kudos to your efforts anyway. Made some interesting reading!

  21. Hi Anonymous!

    Incidentally, the MiG-21 BISON point has been made by me in an earlier reply... scroll up. But are you saying... in your "Dil hai Hindustani" point... that a BISON can land in Gwalior today, refuel, rearm, carry out a maintenance task and take off? Even with some preparation? Do answer that one please?

    Can't endorse what you're saying about my argument being ten years old... my information is from guys (not guy, guys) who are currently in high IAF planning positions. Frankly, I don't believe that three top IAF planners coordinated amongst themselves and separately fed me the line that I have reported.

    I think it is much more likely that you are swallowing the "net-centric warfare" rhetoric that all three services love to spout and hold seminars about, but which none have come anywhere near actually implementing. If any of the three can lay claim to have taken at least a couple of initial steps, it is the Indian Navy, not the IAF.

    So let's talk actual capabilities. Not seminar talk, not promises of what it will be ten years hence. Because I've spent too many years being at the wrong end of those promises.

    Let's talk today.

  22. Thanks for the article Ajay Sahab.

    Seems like the Indian Military and Defense Ministry are only inches ahead of other ministries in getting anything right, (which is not a good thing) :).

  23. Ajayji,
    nice reading together with comments, though your journalistic instincts force you to make broad-stroke and flash grenade type zero value arguments. Mirage-2000 is a mirage.
    We hav to accept the fact that now..
    its a MMRCA not single-engine MRCA contract IMHO gripen and mirage is out of the window. Regarding cost-effectiveness of platforms..
    INS Vikramaditya was $650 mil yesterday when I went to sleep and $1.5bil when I woke-up. Anyway nice informative discussion. plz continue

  24. Just came across this today, Ajai, you couldnt be more wrong on this particular piece (doesnt mean you are wrong on other topics though).

    The Mirage 2000 is frankly, yesterdays aircraft which is increasingly getting outclassed by newer variants of even its peers like the F-16, never mind brand new types like the Rafale, EF. In recent exercises, the Rafale had a 3:1 ratio vs the F-16 in gun engagements, and newer Mirages would fare no better. Please research more about avionics as well. The Mirage 2000 is increasingly getting long in the tooth.
    About n/w centricity, again you are mistaken, please read PV Naiks comments about the Phalcon and the IACCS as Ankur has posted above. This should also assist you in deciding the true state of things. Frankly, the MMRCA is a good shot in the arm for India.

  25. BTW, the reason I mentioned gun engagements was to show how lacking the earlier types are even close in, let alone in BVR, and other more complicated maneuvers where fancier aerodynamics and more power would count for more.


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