European fighters lead MMRCA race - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 9 February 2011

European fighters lead MMRCA race

Making a splash at the Aero India show in Bangalore. Broadsword has learned that the European fighters have taken pole position in the MMRCA competition

By Ajai Shukla
Yelahanka, Bangalore
Business Standard, 10th Feb 11

It was a no-holds-barred duel at Aero India 2011 for a $10-billion (Rs 45,500 crore) prize. Turn by turn, four of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft roared into the sky, keenly aware of the watching eyes of Indian ministry of defence (MoD) officials who would decide which of them was best suited for the Indian Air Force’s order of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

Their performances mirrored each fighter’s fortunes in the MMRCA race. In multiple interviews with MoD officials, IAF pilots and vendor representatives, Business Standard has learned exactly where the MMRCA race currently stands. None of the contenders have been officially eliminated in the IAF’s flight evaluation report, but the heavy liabilities that some are carrying have already reduced this contest to an all-European race.

The clearest performance was that of the Russian MiG-35, which has not shown up at all at Aero India 2011. After multiple problems during the flight evaluation trials, it is regarded by the IAF as little more than an upgraded MiG-29. The Russian fighter is effectively out of the race.
Only marginally less dismal was the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, which travelled to Bangalore but did not participate in the inaugural aerobatics shoot-out.

Defence minister A K Antony insisted today that political considerations would play no part in the MMRCA selection, but his officials were less diplomatic. “The F-16 is in the race only in name; the US will not be allowed to supply the same aircraft to both India and Pakistan,” said a senior MoD official. “Besides, the F-16 has come to the end of its development cycle. There is no scope for improving it further.”

Lockheed Martin seems to know its India campaign is blighted. Over the past two months, company officials and even the Pentagon, the US defence headquarters, have shifted the focus to the F-35, the fifth generation stealth fighter that Lockheed Martin is developing. But while the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ashton Carter, has signalled American willingness to include India in the F-35 programme, the Indian MoD is not persuaded.

On getting a fifth generation fighter from the US, Antony replied, “Already we are engaged with Russia to produce a fifth generation fighter…. No other country has offered us these technologies in the past. We are way ahead now [in the partnership with Russia]. There is no question of going back.”

The other American contender, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, regaled spectators with a superb display of combat manoeuvring, Showcasing its history as a combat fighter, the F/A-18 was the only contender that flew with missiles fitted under its wings, which is avoided in aerobatics because of the resulting drag. But though the Super Hornet was the tightest turner, its aerobatics were conducted at slow speeds. That sluggishness is also true of its campaign in India.

“We scored the F/A-18 poorly during flight evaluation,” says an IAF officer who was closely involved.

That leaves the three European contenders: the Eurofighter (from a four-country consortium), the Dasault Rafale (from france) and the Saab Gripen (Sweden). Each of them put up a superb display of high-speed aerobatics, performing loops, barrel rolls, and spells of inverted flying that clearly pushed the boundaries of the aircrafts’ flight envelopes.

The Gripen showed enormous agility in its vertical handling, something that would allow it to climb above the enemy fighter in a dogfight, to an advantageous killing position. At the end of his display, the Gripen’s pilot displayed how little runway the fighter needs to land, stopping dead in barely 900 ft.

But IAF officers point out two key drawbacks to the Gripen’s campaign: “The Gripen’s AESA radar is the least developed of all the MMRCA contenders; and, being a single-engine fighter, it carries significantly less weaponry than the big twin-engine contenders.”

The twin-engine advantage was immediately evident when the Rafale and the Eurofighter took to the skies, lashing the spectators with a blast of sound. There was little to choose between both those aircraft, their High-G (sharp turn); High-Alpha (slow flying) aerobatics leaving the spectators clapping.

“The MMRCA contest is now between the Eurofighter and the Rafale,” says an IAF officer associated with the flight evaluation. “It will boil down to price. But if the MoD accepts a smaller fighter, with a radar that has some way to go, the economically-priced Gripen could be the dark horse that wins.


  1. Hi Ajai

    Nice article,

    India has a huge trade imbalance with US and there is a target to increase the Bilateral trade to $40 Billion, With the US lifting the export restrictions you cannot discount F18.

    Boeing has a strong presence in India and diluting of the Offset requirements to include civil aviation would be in the primary interest of Boeing.

    US is the insurance policy for India against China.

    Given the growing discontent among the US Public against off shoring/ out sourcing and the backlash against Indian IT companies especially about the visa fee will be shut once for all with this $10 Billion deal.

    Democrats will project the thousands of jobs generated by this deal to fee up the visa restrictions for white collar jobs (.ie increase the number of H1B visas or at-least reduce the number of rejections from the Indian IT companies ) thereby allowing more workers to travel freely and increase the trade volume.

    I had predicted way back in your blog that GE will win the engine deal and it did (My comments @ 24 November 2009 08:17, Article ).

    Now I will put my 2 paise that F18 is going to be the winner.

  2. 'Defence minister A K Antony insisted today that political considerations would play no part in the MMRCA selection,' What a joke.

  3. Dear Ajay, Beautiful analysis done by you. Indeed there is no point in considering US F-16 as the same is flying across the border. The enemy airforce has decades of experience on F-16 and has mastered its traits,and maintenance procedure which the Indian Air Force will learn at least 5 years later. Indeed the MIG 35 is just the upgraded version of Mig29. Rafale will certainly suit IAF because:
    1. Has the same lineage of the successful Mirage 2000
    2. Deep Penetration Strike Capability providing deep interdiction from Forward Airbases like Daulat Beg Oldi, Nyoma
    3. Flight profile highly superior than any of the aircraft with our neighbors.
    Gripen certainly has superior climb profile which is plus point in dogfight, but in the arena of BVR usage and COMMIES tracking by AEW/ AWACS (which is operational with, IAF, PAF, PLAAF)---IS RENDERED USELESS. BVR will make most of the kills in war.
    RAFALE superior flight profile can be used to evade the S300 PMU belt set up in Tibet region.
    Gripen's data integration and communication with SAAB AEW platform is indeed very good, but as SAAB AEW platform is operable in PAF, Gripen is not a suitable choice.

  4. "On getting a fifth generation fighter from the US, Antony replied, “Already we are engaged with Russia to produce a fifth generation fighter…. No other country has offered us these technologies in the past. We are way ahead now [in the partnership with Russia]. There is no question of going back.”

    Again the same old bogus argument. Who is asking Antony to go back? Wht can't we have both? If there are some problems with F-35 fighters which IAF doesn't like, then he could articulate them out clearly. I remember another argument of this type which happened a few years back. The Indian Navy and MOD was divided over whether to have nuclear subs or aircraft carriers!!!! We are now going after both but who will be held responsible for the delay?

    As for the MMRCA deal, a deal quickly done is better done. What is the point in dragging and dragging and when it is signed, the platform becomes somewhat technologically obsolete. But I must say best of luck to Typhoon and Rafale. May the best win.

  5. yes, you should always choose and decipher a combat aircraft and combat effectiveness through a one-day airshow clean display.

  6. @Abid: I think you have misunderstood BVR

    The DRDO said Astra will be able to be launched from different altitudes but those alterations would affect the range.
    It will cover nearly 70 miles when launched from an altitude of just more than 9 miles
    but only 27 miles when fired from an altitude of 5 miles.

    At sea level the range is expected to be 13 miles.
    Active homing range will be nearly 16 miles.

    A longer range version, the Astra Mark 2, will have a 93-mile head on range with a tail chase range of 21 miles.
    70 miles =60nm=110km
    9 miles=14 km
    5 miles =8km
    27 miles=23nm=43km
    13 miles=11 nm=20km
    16 miles=14nm=26km
    93 miles=81nm=150km
    21 miles=18nm=34km

    As we can see, an impressive 93 miles=81nm=150km range on a head on shrinks to a mere quarter on a tail chase, (21 miles=18nm=34km)
    which would be the first thing the shot at fighter would do, equipped with MLD/MAWS, and reasonable high alt agility.
    If he then proceed to take a dive, we can shave off half of that quarter,
    for an effective range of that 150 km missile in practical term is
    ~10 miles=9nm=17km, = within visual range.

  7. @ Krupaswamy

    One need to fight for himself...

    We are the person who need to die for our country, if required......

    NO one is going to save you from pakistan or china.........

    Why you think we cant protect ourself ...........

    When taiwan can protect themself , Why cant we?

  8. I love that idea of catching the Gripen on take off.

    As you will be at the air show, wish you get a even clearer one ( same shot) and other good ones too...

  9. Politically..

    we have already signed a number of deals with the US on defence equipment and some more are in the pipeline. (add nuke deals)

    PAKFA, Mig29 upgrade, Akula, MTA with Russia. (add nuke deals)

    Mirage upgrade, Scorpene, Kaveri colloboration with France. (add nuke deals)

    Not so much with the four countries of Eurofighter consotium excpet the small Hawk deal with UK. So Typhoon winning the deal will put us in a strong defence & technology partnership with the four countries of Eurofighter consotium - support of 4countries in a shot for UN permanent seat.

    Let me also humor myself with a conspiracy theory - ITALY is one of the four countries of Eurofighter consortium.

  10. US is a very unreliable partner(just look at Pakistan).

    I think that is the reason we are buying so much non critical stuff from them C-130,C-17,P-8,LAnding ship etc etc
    but only buying critical stuff from EU,Israel,Russia etc

  11. Anonymous 11:37:

    Your comment: "yes, you should always choose and decipher a combat aircraft and combat effectiveness through a one-day airshow clean display."

    You really don't understand metaphors, do you? If, at the end of reading that article, you think that I've chosen an MMRCA based upon their performance in aerobatiics.... best of luck, mate!

    Go back to my sentence: "Their performances mirrored each fighter’s fortunes in the MMRCA race."

  12. Rafale would have eaten the competition but it is highly priced. You would not want to loose one of those in combat. At that price IAF might only fly it at airshows and republic/independence day, What? war? no! we can't afford to loose them.
    Eurofighter is at the moment quite a one trick pony[Air superiority]. That said by the time India gets it, if they do, it should be specialised for air to ground too.
    Gripen, this one is a beaut for its price and those souce codes and all, but can India absorb it quckly enough? Also how in anyway will Sweden ever be a strategic partner.
    F-18 sluggish? of course! we all know that, but top range BVR,AEW AESA yada yada.... And to get all that MOD would spend the next 3 years signing away agreements and our right to project power when faced with shameless agression.
    F-16, MIG-35 NO!!!
    Come on now, spice up the LCA,begin work on the AMCA and get on with the FGFA and UCAVs. Thats all we need.

  13. Sir, you said that the EJ-200 would win the LCA MK2 contract.
    The opposite party won on that occasion.

    Now your report says that the European birds have an upper hand.

    What shall we infer?

    I suspect that the FA-18E/F will win.

  14. With due respect why your article is confined to B&S standard why not full fledged defense reporter.

  15. Karupaswamy,

    There is no insurance policy and never will be.

    Unless they think they have sold the last Hercules/C17/Apache to us, they won't talk about repercussions.

    The consequences you warn of will only prove to be good in the long term and good for manufacturing that has seen too much talent-loss to the coding world.

    BTW, Do you know what is the trade imbalance between yanks and china? What do they buy?

  16. Forgot to mention that the Rafale and Eurofighter are double or more the price of an F18. The Eurofighter has a fly away cost of more than USD120M. Double that for lifecycle costs....
    The superbug is a proven fighter - with several air forces and possibly the most advanced AESA of them all.

  17. On the question of political decision effecting the deal, the Americans already have their piece of pie. C-17, C-130,P-8A howitters, etc etc.. that is almost close to 10 billion.

    India's way of saying to Americans, that we will not buy F-18's. (F-16 will never been brought, even it comes with ray gun!)

    Russian with PAK-FA, have their piece of Indian pie. So that leaves 3 planes.

    Now let's see how much of pie have France got. Scorpene, Mirage deal, Maitri? big enough pie?

    So EF & Swedes are the only one without the pie. Swedes should have thought twice before giving AWACS to Pak.

    So EF gets the remaining pie?

  18. India's future plan is to have a mix of light, medium and heavy-weight fighters. LCA Mk1 and Mk2 and their successors will take care of the light category. Su30MKI and later on PAK-FA are in the heavy category. From 2025-2030 onwards, India's own AMCA will ease itself into the medium category.

    What India needs for the next 20-25 years is a plane in the medium category. Gripen-NG and F/A-18-EF don't fit that category. F-16IN barely does, and carries too much baggage anyway. This really leaves only Rafale and Eurofighter as serious contenders.

    Rafale is a more mature, proven and multi-role platform. I am sure it would have performed better in the technical rounds than the Eurofighter. But politically, the latter wins hands-down.

    What is on offer with Eurofighter is a close technological partnership with the industrial-military complex of Germany, England, Spain and Italy. Access to all latest technologies and co-production of various platforms has apparently been offered. Cooperation in missile seeker tech, which India is desperately seeking, is on the cards. Plus the continued political support of the four countries for the next 20 years. And probably the biggest factor - this deal with ensure that the doors to the hardware and technology of these countries are closed to China and Pakistan.

    France is too opportunistic. Besides, France has already been 'pleased' with the orders for nuclear reactors, scorpenes, m2k upgrade and kaveri-snecma venture.

  19. I seriously doubt EF or Rafale have a chance, they are both the most expensive aircraft to purchase and operate throughout its life time. The F-18EF International on offer with new EPE engine wasn't tested by IAF. Gripen NG or SH will take this home. All 3 EU aircraft have lots of US made parts and weapons deployed thus making it inevitable for India to deal with the US. US govt. will still have to clear tot on parts that go on board theese aircraft.Rafale doesnt have roadmap, EF needs lots of time and money for upgrades.SH seems the safest option. US being unreliable is weak old statement, cant keep blabbering on about it when lots of new things are being sourced from the US.

  20. Col. Shukla - Sir, perhaps you should consider writing in simpler English :), considering some of the responses you are getting. Some readers are at the outer edges of their comprehension and decryption envelops. But then, that will take the joy out of reading some of the knowledgeable comments :). So perhaps not...?

    It will be really interesting to watch the home run in this competition, considering the professionalism of our report to MOD@GOI. I wonder why the Rafale decided to come by this time...

  21. How could US even field F-18 for an air force requirement.F/A-18 is used by US Navy and is purely a carrier based fighter.

    Air force requirements are different and US Air Force doesn't even use F-18.

  22. To Anonymous @ 11 February 2011 01:44

    You Said "BTW, Do you know what is the trade imbalance between yanks and china? What do they buy?"

    If I were to give you an elaborate ans I would need a separate blog. Let me try to make it short.

    Yes US and china have a huge trade imbalance too Ex as of Nov 2010 the imbalance was $252.38 Billion in favor of China. They invest the surplus in US Treasury bonds and China is the largest holder of it @895.6 Billion.

    If we take the case of US-India trade, the imbalance stands at $9.7 Billion in favor of India and unlike China, India does not invest heavily in US Treasuries. Given the fact that the Export control restrictions on Dual use technologies are relaxed and there is a target in US to double the exports by 2015. US would be leaving no stores unturned to export anything and everything possible to tilt this balance in their favor, Defense Exports is one of the key sectors which can be used to bridge this gap.

    In comparison the trade imbalance between between EU27 and India as of Oct 2010 stands in favor of EU which has a surplus of 0.4 Billion Euros.

    So Compared to Europe, US is more desperate to plug the trade gap. This can be underscored by the facts that US has the largest presence in the Airshow and U.S. Commerce Secretary is personally present in bengaluru to give the political push.

    So I once again reiterate with my 2 paise, MMRCA Deal is going to go to a US Bird viz Boeing F18.

  23. @Karupaswamy,

    Reciprocation is one thing, taking handcuff is another.

    If they were really eager to plug the gap they would cut the strings. They would have waived the intrusive requirements like EUMA for boosting exports and relaxing ToT selectively where confidence building is required.

    Doing business like business calls for different approach. Business and Handcuffs don't mix. China does not take handcuffs. We won't either. Decision was theirs, they weren't serious on tackling EUMA-waiver & ToT issues.

    There are buys beyond mmrca. Unless they think they have nothing else to sell they would not talk repercussions.

  24. I guess the government is delaying MMRCA deal to coincide with US presidential election in 2012. Obama will be happy to show the 10 billion dollar deal to make his citizens vote for him. There is no reason to delay the selection process otherwise. The other chance is that the deal will be split between Rafael/Eurofigher and FA-18.

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