F/A-18 trials from Monday: MoD sends out mixed messages - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 12 August 2009

F/A-18 trials from Monday: MoD sends out mixed messages

(Photos: courtesy Boeing)
US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets. In the picture on the right, they are carrying out fighter-to-fighter mid-air refuelling

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Aug 09

This weekend, two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters will land in Bangalore for flight trials by the Indian Air Force (IAF), an eight-month-long selection process, involving six different aircraft, to zero in on a multi-role medium fighter for the IAF.

India’s defence ministry (MoD) has billed this Rs 42,000 crore purchase, currently the world’s biggest international arms tender, as also the world’s most transparent. The MoD declares that the tender document specifies every detail of what the IAF needs, and whichever company meets those requirements, at the cheapest cost, will walk away with the order.

But now, contradictory messages are emerging; the mantra no longer seems to be “a specified capability for the cheapest price”. Instead, MoD and IAF officers are apparently telling vendors like EADS --- which has offered the high-priced and high-performance Eurofighter --- that extra performance will win extra points.

Bernhard Gerwert, CEO Military Air Systems for EADS, travelled last week to Delhi to assess whether it was worth spending millions of dollars to put the Eurofighter through flight trials in India. If Eurofighter’s superlative performance, superior in several respects than the Indian tender requirements, would win no extra credit, Gerwert was prepared to pull out of the competition.

But the MoD provided the reassurance he was looking for. A relieved Gerwert told Business Standard after his meetings, “The feedback that we have gotten after meetings in Delhi with the MoD and the IAF is that they will test more than just compliance with the tender. The IAF will take into account the performance excellence of each aircraft during flight trials.”

After the relieved EADS team departed from Delhi on 7th August, Business Standard again asked senior IAF officials whether a fighter that demonstrated outstanding performance during flight-testing would win extra credits. The IAF’s answer was an unambiguous negative. “We will not be comparing the aircraft with one another. We have made out a “Compliance Matrix”, and we will only require each fighter’s performance to comply with what we have demanded in the RfP (Request for Proposals, or the tender). There are no extra points for having, say, 50% extra capability. Each contender just has to meet the IAF’s laid down requirements.”

This situation stems from the IAF’s unusually broad definition of a medium fighter. This contest has brought into the arena a range of aircraft, with significant variations in performance --- from the 14-tonne, single-engine Gripen to the 30-tonne, double-engine Super Hornet.

At the end of the flight-testing next May, predict experts, the IAF might have four or more aircraft that comply fully with the MoD’s tender. In that case, the cheapest bid will win, with the MoD evaluating costs on a “Life Cycle” basis. That includes all the costs over a 30-40 year life-cycle, adding the per unit purchase price to the costs of technology, indigenous manufacture, infrastructure, repair and maintenance, operating expenses, and a host of other hidden costs. The IAF calls it “Cost of Ownership”; this method of calculation is being adopted for the first time by India for a capital equipment purchase from abroad.

Western vendors, whose military equipment has traditionally had higher ticket prices, claim that the “Cost of Ownership” calculation will tilt the equation in their favour, especially when compared with Russian equipment that they accuse of being maintenance-heavy, demanding vast quantities of spares, and spending more time on the ground than in the air.


  1. A collosal waste of time. Just ask the IAF which aircraft they want and buy it after due negotiations. In doing so, India's long term defense perspective, developments in the region (vis-a-vis China/Pakistan) and the reliability of the OEM in confilct situations to be assessed. That would save a lot of time and money.With the LCA delayed and the Mig-21s falling to pieces, we dont have time for this drama.

  2. rafale is best followed by mig35

    126 rafales+74 mig35

    if 126 rafales are costly,buy 126 mig35

    but its good to acquire aircrafts from two vendoers to spped up the induction


    we will only require each fighter’s performance to comply with what we have demanded in the RfP (Request for Proposals, or the tender)

  4. Agree with P Mukherjee. Stupid procedures make for stupid purchases.

    Transparency is good, but this MoD's execution of transparency will kill our pilots and enslave the nation to the Chinese in a war scenario

  5. Our company installed recently a small lift, after following thorough commercial procedures like minimum 3 quotations and ofcourse the bid costing the lowest, won the tender!The whole process went for a year! atlast and finally the lift was installed. Till today ,not a even a single day the lift functioned properly! as mukherjee sahab suggested"A collosal waste of time. Just ask the IAF which aircraft they want and buy it after due negotiations"
    since the deal is being big, govt to govt negotians are necessary after choosing the suitable a/c by IAF supported by HAL reps and DRDO reps! This way we can stop rubbing salt in all most all major a/c manufacturers with whome we have links one way or other!

  6. I guess I saw an F/A-18 Super Hornet yesterday screaming through the B'lore skyline. It was followed by some Heavy Transport aircraft which I could not identify.

  7. It seems like there is a great deal if indecision in the Indian think-tank, if there is any. The way MMRCA deal is going, it looks like the IAF seems like a pampered kid in chocolate section of the supermarket.
    Maybe this is what happened with Tejas too.


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