Rejected MMRCA vendors fight to return - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 13 May 2011

Rejected MMRCA vendors fight to return

A Eurofighter Typhoon takes off for an aerobatics display at the Aero India 2011 show in Bangalore last February. The Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale have been downselected for the IAF's $9.5 billion purchase of 126 medium fighters

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th May 11

The elimination of four aircraft vendors from the $9.5 billion global competition to sell 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to the Indian Air Force has not been accepted quietly. Business Standard has learned that the ministry of defence (MoD) has already received letters from all four inquiring why their fighters were found unfit.

The first inquiry was from Russia, asking why the IAF had found the MiG-35 unsuitable. Next was the US Embassy in New Delhi, asking for the specific reasons that had led to the elimination of the two American fighters, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet; and the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper. MoD sources also confirm that Sweden’s Gripen International has written in, seeking details of why the fancied Gripen NG fighter was ruled out.

Earlier, on 27th April, the MoD had written to the four vendors briefly outlining, but not detailing, the reasons for their elimination. The remaining two vendors --- Eurofighter GmbH; and Dassault of France --- were asked to extend the validity of their price bids, given two years earlier.

Vendor protests after elimination from a tender would usually be rejected as a pro forma exercise. This time, however, a MoD procedural error could provide vendors with a lever to claw their way back into contention. The MoD’s Technical Oversight Committee (TOC), which must review the IAF’s technical evaluation and flight trials to ascertain that procurement procedures were followed in full, had not completed its work before the MoD sent out the rejection letters.

It remains unclear why the MoD sent out its rejection letters before the TOC had ensured full compliance with procedures. Now, the three-man TOC --- headed by the Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri (SA to RM), VK Saraswat, and with Bharat Electronics Ltd chief, Ashwini Datt and the IAF’s Air Marshall Anil Chopra as members --- is scrambling to complete this mandatory review. Emailed a questionnaire by Business Standard, the MoD has not responded.

Aviation experts apprehend that this procedural lacuna could be exploited by one of the “politically influential vendors” (read Boeing and Lockheed Martin) to re-enter contention. Senior IAF officers, however, emphatically rule out selecting either American fighter. Says an IAF officer involved in the selection process: “The US companies, which flaunt their technological leadership, are feigning hurt that their fighters were found technologically unsuitable. But it was their misjudgement to offer the IAF fighters like the F-16 and the F-18 that are decades old. It is arrogance to claim that these have been modernised and are good enough for a country like India. But, if they wanted to argue technology, they should have fielded the F-35.”

The Russian vendor, RAC MiG, is also upset with the IAF’s rejection but for another reason. “The MiG-35 has been developed in Russia as a natural replacement for the 2000-odd MiG-21s that are in coming to the end of their service lives in tens of air forces around the world. With the IAF --- a bastion of MiG fighters --- rejecting the MiG-35, the Russian builder worries about the negative signal that this will send across the world,” points out Pushpindar Singh, aerospace expert and editor-in-chief of the trade magazine, Vayu.

Meanwhile, Gripen International is fine-tuning its strategy for appealing the IAF’s rejection. According to the MoD’s letter to the company, the Gripen NG was found non-compliant with the IAF’s tender requirements on 51 counts, of which 43 relate to the critical Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Gripen International argues that it is unfair to say that the IAF has not been provided “proof of technology”, or proof that the Gripen NG’s Selex AESA radar (which is still under development) has surmounted the key technological obstacles needed for operationalising it in time for delivery to India. That is because Selex (in partnership with Euroradar) is also developing the Eurofighter’s AESA radar, which the IAF has accepted as technologically viable, and likely to be ready in time for delivery to India. Gripen points out that if Selex has convinced the IAF about having mastered the technology for the Eurofighter’s AESA radar, that same technology will drive the Gripen NG’s radar.

But IAF sources reveal that Gripen failed to provide proof that their AESA radar development was on track and that they could integrate that radar on a fighter. In contrast, Dassault had fitted two prototype AESA radars on Rafale fighters, proving that they were close to completion. Eurofighter too test-flew a prototype AESA radar for the IAF evaluation team, convincing them that it would be ready by 2014-15.

So far, all six vendors had conspicuously praised the MMRCA technical and flight evaluation procedures, declaring that this was the most professionally handled competitive procurement that they had ever encountered anywhere. Now, clearly, the gloves are off.


  1. The gloves are off, Subramaniam Swamy is in (wonder if he got "tipped of" by someone pushing for LM or Boeing)..absolutely stupid allegations fly and the IAF procurement gets screwed (hopefully not). I now wonder if LM will field the F 35.

    As usual, I cannot help wondering what if this was a Chinese procurement..... When will we ever develop balls of brass to ensure our national interests are not subject to vendor politics. Hmm. Looks like never.

  2. Somewhere in Mar Apr 2009 there was an article about the Rafale being rejected in the TEC. This was the comment "The French Rafale twin-engine multi-role fighter has been knocked off a $10-billion contract for 126 combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force. One of six contenders, Rafale was officially rejected by the Ministry of Defence for what an official called the failure to meet qualitative requirements of the contract. But a senior official of the Ministry of Defence today said that Dassault Aviation's Rafale was rejected at the technical evaluation stage for failing to meet minimum performance requirements detailed in the tender document. Flight trials for the remaining five fighters are expected to commence within three months,"
    Then how come Rafale is the front runner now. From where has this mysterious jump occurred.

  3. A couple of questions. None of the vendors got all 643 ticks in the box. Are we sure that the Eurofighter and the Rafale have passed the IAF evaluation or have they simply be given more allowance for 'other reasons' (1 per cenT OF $100 million apiece is usually more than say $1 million for a $45m MiG-35?). Why were procedures tripped. You pointed to the TOC. What about the technical offsets which had been received just a week before. Who was in this tearing hurry? If two vendors could be asked to extend the commercial time lines, why not the others? It also appears that the two have not been confirmed by the IAF as actually having passed the 643 parameters and it appears to me that the IAF simply cannot accept either aircraft without them proving the 15-20 points which has fallen short for both of them. Incidentally, I think the Rafale is a great aircraft but the Eurofighter has simply too many question marks.

  4. "Aero India 2011 show in Bangalore last February"???

    Ajaiji this is still 2011. I think you have lost it after having too much tea with that Peelani.

  5. the circus starts again....

    in the process, everything would get delayed...


  6. Rafale should win !

  7. Incorrect about Gripen not showing an operational AESA. The AESA has been flying on the Demo since October 2009. Also, see the following story in which the Swedes confirmed that the IAF flew on the Demo with the AESA. "IAF team flies Gripen Demo in Sweden with operational AESA radar"

    Also, see the following story based on a Press Release by Selex "SELEX Galileo’s RAVEN AESA radar supporting Gripen NG weapon system" of April 2010.

    Do check facts before writing even if they come from so called experts.

  8. This is getting ridiculous. Is this goondaraj by the vendors?. Are they saying the IAF is incompetent to handle a downselect.

    It is upto the vendors to come up with proper proof of any wrong doing. Any hiding behind some vague technicality will not be welcomed by fair thinking Indians.

    Each fighter had its supporters, some less some more. But no one[Indians particularly] grudges the downselect.

    It is now time to tell the vendors that have lost to simply 'BACK OFF'.

  9. wait and watch EuroFighter will be the winner ....

  10. The rejected MMRCA vendors fight to return may be futile and it may create further complications in to the situation. They should feel satisfied enough with the transparent and scientific nature and practices of the contract.

  11. How is asking for specific reasons for elimination equal to protest as the headline and premise of your article suggests. You have failed to support your premise with evidence from the companies that they will be fighting the decision. The suppositions you build from third party and unrelated parties is leading to sensationalism.

  12. @ Anonymous 10:11

    You clearly have a problem with the English language! Going by proper usage, "last February" means the last February that we had, which is Feb 2011.

    It is pure babu English to refer to Feb 2011 as "this February", and mean Feb 2010 when we say "last February".

    That's your free English lesson for today.

  13. @Anonymous 10:54

    It is hilarious that you are citing press reports to try and prove that the IAF was assured by flight testing the Gripen's AESA.

    Nothing of the sort was done. Even Gripen admits it and is now looking for the opportunity to demonstrate.

    Press reports are seldom authoritative, unless they come from the pen of Broadsword.

  14. I hope the Super Horny is back in downselect, with new EPE engines, stealth pods, next gen cockpit, new MAWS, etc...its certainly cheaper to operate, its cost per flight hour is about $8000 to $10000 and price per unit even with the most advanced version will be around $70 mil per unit, the Rafale and EF wont be available for less than $100 mil per unit and their operational cost per flight hour is more than double the Horny. And coming to CISMOA and other agreements, they will signed anyways after lots of re-drafting, soon the US will realise they'll have to drop a lot of the intrusive clauses to win deals in India. SH is by far the most reliable and with new engines its T/W ratio will be just as much as the EF/Rafale, it will have better range, better acceleration and will be able to take on leh as well.

    New tech on engine will shave off almost 200 kg from each engine, making it lighter than the EJ200 and m-88 and thus making the Horny a little lighter. Plus SH so far hasn't suffered a crash due to technical failure. Overall good aircraft and can do the samethings or even better for a lot cheaper.

  15. Shukla Ji

    If it really leads to Americans offering F-35 to India and IAF chosing it over all other competitors(albeit after a lot of drama and time loss)- would you really be happy about it?

    Do you feel it coming? with all your experience and understanding of the politics and game of defence procurement in India?

    Or is it just a wild imagination on my part now?

  16. Col. Shukla!!! That was a good one !!! "Unless they are from the pen of Broadsword". Cheers!

    @ Maximus -

    There are many permutations of how this Ekta Kapoor serial worthy rumour must have started. Sonia Gandhi = Italian. Carla Bruni = Italian + wife of Sarkozy. So, there must be a backdoor connection!!

    So if Boeing had won, someone would have come up with Rudy Guilani's or Leon Panetta's Italian roots to make a connection to Sonia.

    Anyway, by this logic, the Eurofighter should be the one being pushed.... both Sonia and Bruni are Italian. And Italy is part of the Cassidian consortium.

    Oh, but wait.... Carla Bruni. though Italian, is more loyal to her husband's country and thus pushes for the French plane rather than the one that is good for Italy... but Sonia, long time citizen of India, still remains loyal to Italy. Damn!! Now, lets not forget that Sarkozy is of Hungarian origin.... he must be pushing for Paprika exports to India..

    Shit, these Europeans are making this tough, almost as tough as our Hindi soap opera plots.

  17. @Broadsword response to Anon @10:54: Delighted to see that you have your sense of humor intact. However, I have pointed to a Selex press release. I am also intrigued that you say that Gripen has confirmed that they did not integrate it when they had actually held a press conference in April 2010 from which half a dozen reports had emerged which I took off the net. So, what were they doing holding press conference claiming that they IAF flew the AESA?

  18. Are you sure the Eurofighter and Rafale has met all the critical parameters? Also, go and check out what happened in the last three TEC meetings. Why was the Chief in a hurry?

  19. Why all the rejected vendors are shouting? Didn't they knew that only one of the contender aircraft will be chosen for IAF.
    Is Indian Govt compelled to reply everyone and give explanation for the rejection, is if India has committed a crime.
    Moreover, the russians should have been SHAMEFUL enough Not to ask this question, because they are the one who are starving our IAF of spares. Because of them, many aircraft such as SU30 are grounded. Also, we don't find russian aircrafts competent enough for modern aircombat, as the Mig33 is still a derivative of vintage Mig, whose era is over.

  20. If this tender is scrapped...F-35 anyone??

  21. Rafale will win.

  22. Dear Col. Shukla,

    Can you hazard a guess as what would be the way forward...

    will our guys stick to downselect..or expand the downselect...

    or better still scrap the entire process and recommence once again from start...


  23. Hi, IAF pilots flew the Selex Vixen Raven radar at least twice, once on the NG and earlier on a test bed in the UK when it was under development. They checked out various modes though obviously the full system was under development at that stage.

  24. It shall be seen that the tender itself shall not be scrapped due to continued tug of the war between the EuroCommunism and AmeroCommunism.

    Otherwise a new delayed round will begin between the F-35 and Super SU-30 MKI.

  25. the terminator16 May 2011 at 20:09

    I hope the IAF gets what they want if the price and other parametes are met. The MMRCA has been a long drawn out saga and it wii be a few more years before the deal is signed. In the meantime the squadron level is getting depleted. It has gone down to 29 from 39 over the years. It is no where near the sanctioned strenght of 45 or the ideal 60.

    While the MOD political baboos are dilly-dallying, our enemies have been on a song augmenting their strike capabilty. If the Porkis and the Chinks decide to attack together opening up 2 or 3 fronts, the IAF and the country would be at the mercy of these rogue nations.

    By the time peace is brokered, Kashmir would be in the hands of the Porkis. Arunachal Pradesh, most of the north-eastern states would fall to the Chinks. Is this what we are waiting for? History to repeat another 1962.

    Not only we are short of modern fighters but even our underwater offensive cabability is pathetic. While the MOD baboos debate and vacillate, the Porkis have better and modern submarines in their fleet. Their all weather friend, the Chinks have many more conventional and nuclear attack submarines. Our present fleet is no match to the combined armada of the Porkis and Chinks.

    I hope a sense of urgency prevails at MOD. A very strong India is in itself a deterent. Nobody with a rational thinking would like to go against an adversary armed to the teeth unless he is foolish enough yearning to be bashed up good and proper.


  27. Why I always feel like feeling that India should immediately purchase at least 50 Nos of any plane, may it be Rafale, EFT, F-18 or even Gripen.

  28. The F-18 is still a great option, cheaper than the others, faster to produce, easily maintainable, while sharing the same engines with LCA Mk2. Obviously, it comes with fantastic avionics, ECM and radar suite. My motive for suggesting this is simple, Americans are good and trustworthy people, when compared with the Europeans. This is important when you are going to have a strategic relationship that will last decades, whether you like it or not, due to this deal. Europeans still have a colonial hangover and pretend as if they own the world. They like dictating rules and morals to everyone else. Ironically, they are also one of the best when it comes to cut-throat business tactics, like tying M2K upgrades to the MMRCA. IMHO, FMS with America is the safest and most predictable way to go. I know my post sounds very subjective, but it is the minimum risk solution when you analyze it and I just wanted to put it out there.

  29. hello Sir..can u please write an article on PM Singh`s recent trip to Kabul.. Indian media hasn't really written much about this important issue..


  30. What is new in this?? It is kind of human nature isnt it...if we were to loose a case in court..many of us would say that the system is flawed bias et al.but if we won..we would sing praises of the system.

    How many of us (no..not just Indians...ppl in general) accept defeat graciously...

  31. the terminator18 May 2011 at 20:36

    Shukla, Why there is no report in your blog about the blast at Vishag and the death of 4 Navy personnel?

    Could you please find out mor details about the incident and post in your blog? There are rumours that the incident happened on board our nuclear vessel.

    Hope I am not asking too much. Thanks.

  32. Dear

    Ajai sir

    Its now certain that Rafale and Typhoon have been finalized for final negotiations on MMRCA, and Rafale expected to win. But I have some querries which are in a way related to MMRCA deal. I would be glad if you answer.

    Q1 Saab planning to re-enter the MMRCA race stating that as the AESA it will fit on Gripen will also be used by Rafale and if Rafale is selected so should be Gripen, is it possible after a company has been rejected?

    Q2 Some talk is going round that India will sign the US$ 2.2 billion plus deal to upgrade Mirage 2000, and once the upgrades start France will handover the Mirage 2000 jets to India which it planned to buy from Qatar (which has reportedly been returned to France) for upgrade and use. Assuming that Rafale will win the deal it will be much easier for India and France to further enhance Mirage 2000 numbers. Can this type of exchange happen?

    Q3 Some say India also plans to augment its fleet of Mirage 2000 with those from Greece which the Greek government wants to exchange with France in return for Rafales, upgrade them and ultimate field 40 of total Mirages in its inventory under SFC. Can this be really a possibility

    Awaiting your reply


    Joydeep Ghosh

  33. Hey shukla, psst psst

  34. is the photo in this article a fake note there is no shadow.


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