Hefty Rs 42,000 crore bill for combat aircraft may rise - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 30 July 2011

Hefty Rs 42,000 crore bill for combat aircraft may rise

The Dassault Rafale, taxiing before taking off for an aerobatics display at Aero India 2011 in Bangalore last February

by Ajai Shukla
(Short version in Business Standard, 31st July 11)

For years, India’s proposed purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) --- the world’s largest overseas fighter buy for which the Typhoon, built by Eurofighter GmbH; and the Rafale, developed by French vendor Dassault, remain in contention --- has been valued at Rs 42,000 crore, almost US $10 billion. Now that valuation is set to rise dramatically as the Ministry of Defence carries out a process called benchmarking.

Benchmarking is the crucial process of estimating the fair price for any purchase, and is completed before the MoD opens the price bids for any tender. This is done by an MoD committee which scrutinises similar tenders worldwide, especially recent sales, to arrive at a comparable --- or as the name suggests, a benchmark --- price. If all the vendors’ bids emerge significantly higher than the benchmark, the tender is cancelled and the process begun afresh.

For example, if the MoD committee that is currently benchmarking the MMRCA concludes that Rs 42,000 crore is a decade-old estimation that should be increased due to inflation by 50%, the benchmark for that contract will be pegged at Rs 63,000 crore. When the Eurofighter’s and Dassault’s bids are opened, if both turn out to be notably higher, the MoD will scrap the MMRCA tender. On the other hand, if the lower bid is less than or approximates the benchmark, that bid will be accepted.

The benchmark figure has become crucial for the Typhoon and Rafale, which are acknowledged as the most expensive of the six fighters that competed for the IAF’s order. Watching from the sidelines and hoping that the procurement falls through are the four aircraft vendors who were eliminated from the MMRCA contest in April: Russia’s MiG; Sweden’s Saab; and American companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Two of those vendors have told Business Standard that they believe that Eurofighter’s and Dassault’s quotes will be far higher than the benchmark. If they are correct, the long process of obtaining sanctions, tendering, evaluations and field trials will have been fruitless.

One eliminated contestant sources the Rafale’s price from the Brazilian media, which has keenly followed the contest between Dassault, Saab and Boeing to sell 36 fighters to the Brazilian Air Force. A detailed story in the Sao Paulo based daily, Folha de S. Paulo, pegs the Rafale bid at US $6.2 billion (plus another US $4 billion for maintenance over the next 30 years, according to the terms of the Brazilian tender). Quoting French sources, the daily reports that the $6.2 billion bid is a discounted price, brought down from $8.2 billion after intense Brazilian pressure on Paris. Extrapolating these figures onto the Indian contract, Dassault’s quote for 126 MMRCAs could be as much as $20 billion, twice the initially estimated figure.

Aerospace industry estimations put the cost of the Eurofighter Typhoon about 25% higher than the Rafale. That would put the cost of 126 Typhoons at about $25 billion.

The Indian price bids, however, involve a different calculation. The South Block tender demands price quotes on a “life-cycle” basis, a complex and detailed format that factors in the cost of 126 fighters over their estimated service life of 40 years. Bids are broken down into seven heads --- M-1 to M-7 --- and include the fly-away cost of the fighter; cost of spare parts; operating costs; cost of inspections and maintenance; transfer of technology; and training expenses. The final figure, M-8, is the overall cost, reached by adding up M-1 to M-7.

Executives from Rafale and Eurofighter agree that Rs 42,000 crore is an outdated price and that the survival of the MMRCA contract now depends upon how much higher the MoD is willing to raise the benchmark.

“Rs 42,000 crore was a price estimated a decade ago, and that was for a smaller, single-engine fighter. When you factor inflation, and the fact that India is now buying a heavy, twin-engine fighter, naturally the price will be much higher,” says a senior executive from one of the vendor companies.

A keen watcher of these developments is Lockheed Martin, whose F-16IN Super Viper was rejected by the IAF. A visiting Lockheed Martin executive told Business Standard that the fifth-generation F-35 Lightening II would become a real option for India if the MMRCA procurement was scrapped.

“We did not offer the F-35 for the MMRCA contract because it exceeded the Indian specifications; the fighter was not yet ready for the kind of flight testing specified in the tender; and because the US government had not yet approved it for release to India to include transfer of technology as specified in the RfP,” said Orville Prins, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President for Business Development.

Six years down the line, these conditions have changed. Prins now points out that, with Lockheed Martin set to build 20 fighters per month, i.e. 240 per year, “we could be in a position to supply India with its first F-35s by 2016, contingent upon many additional factors including US governmental approval that would affect this timing.”

Asked for the cost of the F-35, Lockheed Martin estimates it “in the mid-60s”, i.e. somewhere between $60-70 million for the conventional version of the fighter. This would be the cost of a full-up, operational configuration with all the high-tech sensors that are integrated internally in a 5th generation, stealthy aircraft. Added to this cost would be the added expenses of training, technology transfer (ToT), manufacturing infrastructure, etc, which would significantly raise the overall cost of buying 126 F-35s.


  1. F-35 does seem to be more bang for buck. Mouth watering indeed. if we can get an aircraft which is a gen. ahead then why go for an inferior one..

  2. I hope you're right

  3. an F35 would cost $60m? Really? will be closer to 200m a piece after all the overruns.

  4. There appears to be an inherent bias in your article towards the US and the F35 (note also your preious articles on F35 etc).

    Why dont you disclose this and also if, for example, you have received any direct or indirect benefits (flights, entertainment etc) from any of the US companies or the US Govt.

    Surely this would be the ethical thing to do especially if one of the pillars of your post is accountability etc.


  5. Yes

    An author in the previous post of Col. Shukla stated that he shall not rest until F-35 is selected. I believe that author is right.


    Hari Sud

  6. The way things are going it's doubtful the F-35 will be in service with the US Air Force by 2016 let alone India's. And $70 million per plane is just a pipe dream by this point.

  7. Shukla Sir, I only have one question for you and it doesn't even relate to the veracity of this article. Why is it that the official version of the article on Business Standard (released late on 30th night) end with the part about the Rafale price and has nothing on the F-35??


    While you are entitled to lobby for or against products, please be honest about it. Articles like these insult the military and policy makers of this country-

    The claim that the F-35 comes at 60-70 M a piece?? That's not what the US media is saying. And about getting them in 2016, the Israelis may have to wait until 2018 to get their first variants.

  8. Anonymous @ 4.43 -

    Exactly what do you think you sound like? PR from one of the contestants..

    The Colonel's article is stating some bare facts and numbers. Why does it have to be so hard to accept it for what it is, rather than twist it around so much?

    As I have said before, the Typhoon and the Rafael both are excellent aircraft and probably take care of our immediate to medium term needs.

    All this article is saying, to me at least, is:

    1) After bench-marking, the price of the the Typhoon and the Rafael will come to between 110 - 130 million US$. Col. Shukla has not mentioned exchange rate fluctuations yet..
    2) The F35, may cost around 150 or thereabouts if taken through exactly same benchmarking process.
    3) If the MOD is unwilling to raise the contract value to factor in inflation and exchange rates, then the bids from Dassault and Cassidian may fall through. (Just have a look at the recent Mirage 2000 upgrade contract price and transpose those prices over to the Rafael and EFA)
    4) And then what? Will Lockheed bring the F35 to the table?
    5) If the F35 comes to the field, how will the GOI and IAF look at things?

    These are the 5 things I get from this article. What is so bad about raising these questions instead of looking at it through jingoistic and rather narrow vision? we have waited over 10 years for the a/c, so if it gets delayed because of price, what should we do? Not buy at all, or look at ALL the availble options with price benchmarking, since capabilities are already quite well known...

    Grow up people.

    @ Hari Sud... why?

  9. So when MOD is comparing life-cycle costs, why does Shooklaw ji throw in a "price" googly for the F=35 albeit at $60-70 Mill, when Wikipedia gives the fly-away cost of the F-35 at $122 Mill and $183.5 Mill life cycle. Given the amount of bias this article has towards the F-35 (and the earlier ones too)I can understand if as military journalist, you favor the F-35. But distorting facts to present your view? I am tempted to think that this blog has long lost its neutrality.

    If you have publicly accepted a position in marketing at LM, please update us.

  10. Shame on you Col. Shukla you are a blind supporter of USA

  11. Mr. Shukla please answer the question if you have interest direct or indirect from Lockheed martin.
    I am fan of your blog & comments made are certainly hurting me


  12. You raised a good question and highlighted a real risk for the process, until you exposed your real aim, which is the IAF to buy F-35. The first part of the article is a good analysis, the end is more disappointing. If you honestly believe LM's quotation of 60-70 m$ a piece and the first aircraft to be delivered in 2016, ahead of historical customers, what can we do against that? You have convictions, that's good, but I'm looking forward to F-35 fighting Rafale or EF during Red Flags to really believe it is such a great aircraft. So far I'm not convinced at all.

  13. 10B $ were allocated keeping in mind our economy can afford then.One could easily have a look at the economic gains we have made in last decade.

    10B were optimum allotment then.Guess, MoD has this thing in mind and they are open enough to judge the prices and benchmark them according to our current economy.

  14. Ajay, for god sake think of IAF which desperately needs this fighters to be war ready. I hope you be more optimistic.Come out of your pessimistic approach for MMRCA and leave the debate of F-35.

  15. Ministry of Defence will not make a joke out of the whole thing only because they did not revise the 10 yr old benchmark price.

    Rafale will be selected.

  16. It is still not sure whether F-35 is definitely going to be superior than the J-20 and if so then India will be again back to square one.

    So in case MMRCA deal crashes, it will be more prudent to purchase only two or three squadrons of any of the six MMRCA contenders (I mean even the F-16) at earliest.

    The money so saved shall be diverted to hasten Tejas-MK2 and FGFA.

  17. - Aggressively work with US government to get F35 - Joint Strike Fighter(JSF). This is where our focus should be and indications are that they might be willing to entertain the request. Remember, besides F22-Raptor, which US currently would not sell to anyone, F35 is a stealth fighter with tremendous capabilities. In addition, India needs to build close strategicm ties with US to counter the Chinese Dragon and its proxy Pakistan. We need this fighter to be facing the eastern front, with the upcoming deployment of Chinese J20 fighter jet. I do know that India has signed an agreement with Russia for the PAK-FA Fifth Generation Fighter aircraft. 

    However, Russian aircraft would never be able to matchup against US technology. Just name one war where the Russian jets have defeated American jets - Zero. Just in 1982, Israel flying F16 and F15 jets destroyed 86 frontline Soviet aircraft being flown by Syria in two days without a single loss of its own (wow!). Gulf war I & Ii, Kosovo operation, Libyan operations are all examples of superior US technologies. There was a time when US equipment was not available for obvious reasons. Now India should go for the best proven technologies. Pakistan's recent acquisition of F16 C/D Block 52+ aircraft with 500 potent BVR  AIM120C-5 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, in conjunction with Saab Erieye AWACs makes the skies more complicated. Block 52+ or older F16 are flown by US today. We must acquire F35 regardless of PAK-FA FGFA contract.

  18. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the Marine Corps version of the F-35 on probation last year because of cost overruns and schedule delays, saying it would be cancelled in two years unless Lockheed could fix the plane's test problems.

  19. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQB4W8C0rZI

  20. I do not agree that original RFP was for a single engine jet. Only F16 and Gripen were single engine and considered unlikely winners from the beginning. Rest like F18, Mig 35, Rafale, Eurofighter were all twin engined. There is no brainer that with China coming up with J20 stealth fighter and Pakistan acquiring F16 C/D Block 52+ with 500 AIM 120 C-5 AAMRAM, we would need stealth aircraft ASAP.

    There is no question of a bias for F35. It is the best available for sale out there.can any one name one time when a US aircraft has lost. In 1982, Israel shot down 86 Soviet front line jets being flown by Syrians for not a single loss of it's own. Gulf war I and Ii, same results.

  21. Official Canadian government estimate of life cycle cost of 62 f 35s is 13 billion dollars and non governmental estimates are 29 billion. Therefore for 126 JSFs we will have to pay about 30-70 billion in life cycle costs.

    Thanks for deleting my previous posts because they uncovered your factually wrong information on the JSF.

  22. Mr Shukla it is becoming increasingly important that you clarify as suggested by others if you have any conflict of interest about the JSF. Has Lockheed Martin directly or indirectly compensated you in the last 3 years.

  23. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh2Gnxa_fTw&feature=related

  24. i believe mr.shukla is being typically superficial about MMRCA. This is not as simple as scrapping the deal and going for another lone fighter. How do you suggest resolving the CISMOA and other agreements involved with F35 buy? There is no way india could leverage US if it gets F35 thru FMS. US will never lower its threshold. India will be bound to complete F35 restrictions including presence of american staff on indian bases and much more. There will be no technology transfer, that is for sure. The project will be delayed bu at least 4 to 5 years on condition that F-35 sees successful induction, which is not likely at this point. If india commits to F-35 it will commit to cost overuns in development of F-35 without having access to any special technology. India will own the aircraft only that it won't really. India will be technologically restricted. How do you suggest closing the squadron gaps in the meanwhile. India needs at least 200 MMRCA to start phasing out its obsolete migs. I mean for God sake, this is the ground reality. You have written earlier, F-35 is a great attack aircraft, even if its technological superiority is accepted (though its not like that), there are a thousand things involved before an air craft is air borne. To me, it looks like either you have been heavily bribed to please F35s case or you are really superficial in your thinking. MMRCA may not be the best buy for india, but remember, when you buy from outside, you don't buy dreams, you buy reality. And the reality is, MMRCA at this point, suits best for indian needs. Rafale or EF2000 may be more expensive but do you have a REAL option to consider? (not the F-35 again , please). India is struggling with LCA, india's own FGF is not likely before a decade. How will you make sure that india maintains its requirements. MMRCA is the only answer to india's needs and you will lead india into a massive disaster of airforce, if you keep hitting the same F-35 notes. By the way, F-22 export restriction will be up in 5,6 years. By the time F-35 time comes, even if MMRCA is scrapped, with this logic of yours, will you start pleading the case for F-22 scrapping the F-35. Airforces do not work like that sir, they have to act timely and in best circumstances. I request you, please stop this quest of yours for F-35. This is turning out to be a SCRAP-THE-MMRCA-TAKE-THE-F35 blog. Every 2 months you write the same thing, do you not see beyond your personal opinion or whatever you're writing for. Please open your eyes, practical please.

  25. Anon @ 10.34, shame for supporting USA? Are you kidding me? Are you saying that it is a proud thing to support the EU or France. Eitherways, the Col has only stated facts and made extrapolations from official quotes by a LM rep. And by the way, I know you don't care, but I am Indian and have lived in the USA for many years; the USA is a far more principled country than the EU and Americans judge you without prejudice.

  26. uk government has cut JSF purchase from 170 down to 50 airframes, it will not buy any vertical take off airframes, due to explosive cost growth and time delays.

  27. It is hilarious to read comments that some how F35 may not be better than the humungous "stealthy" J20. F35 incorporates the latest and the greatest of the US stealth technology. Its radar as of today is the most powerful in the world. China which steals foreign military secrets has come up with this J20 designed and manufactured with the help of Russian engineers they have recruited.

    Please do not even begin to compare Tejas. Like the last chief said, it is barely a Mig 21++. so let us not get carried away. Let us buy F35 if by God's grace MMRCA process is cancelled. Can any one tell me as to why all the nations operating the Eurofighter and Rafale and Israel are lining up to buy F35 and so are the rest of the Nato countries?

  28. Heberian @ 8.25,

    I think the person who needs to grow up is you. Numbers and statistics hide more than they reveal.

    For one, do you think the MOD never factored in all the processes and stages of this deal when conducting this tender? For all their flaws, they are not a bunch of blundering fools. Claiming that a base price expectation would derail a contract is well-bogus thinking to say the least. There are numerous competitions (smaller of course) taking places across the world where the likes of the expensive Eurofighter take on the economical Gripen.

    2. Do you or anyone honestly believe that the F-35 will be available by 2016? And that it will be released with technology transfer and license manufacturing agreements? It's one thing the IAF needs new aircraft and it is another that it can't wait. And the F-35 is at a disadvantage there.

    3. If the US government snipes defense projects as is expected, the F-35 family is at real threat and that will affect its export prices.

    4. In case people have not noticed, why is it assumed that only Lockheed Martin would benefit the MMRCA contract imploded?? The obvious beneficiary would be Russia which has more affordable wares to hawk.

  29. @ajai sir

    What you say about the MMRCA deal and opting for JSF-35 it seems like shifting of goal post to me, remember we were looking for a high powered single engined aircraft to make up for MiG-21 obselecense and induction of Tejas.

    The fact about MMRCA deal, it was meant to fill the gap between the availability of FGFA, AMCA and LCA Tejas start inducting and the 272 Sukhoi-30s are churned out.

    In the case MMRCA deal falls off then its better we go for the Mirage 2000 the UAE is selling back to France and those the Greeks are selling off.

    waiting for your response

    @Heberian welcome back after long time. some more bites from you


    Joydeep Ghosh

  30. 60-70mio for the f-35...

    does that meet your benchmark?

  31. We need this deal to be done. We need to get full TOT so that we can use it for our future. But this will be possible only when HAL (NULL) is not the only party involved. Or HAL (NULL) is headed or controlled by IAF.

    What a bad thing, HAL is taking TOT from so many days, still not able to produce something by its own.

  32. @ Anonymous 04:43

    Your comment: "There appears to be an inherent bias in your article towards the US and the F35"

    Are you just slow? I have argued forcefully, and repeatedly, under my own name for cancelling the MMRCA contract and buying the F-35. I have made it absolutely clear to all but the most dim-witted that I believe that this will be to the great benefit of the IAF and the country.

    But you still seem to be under the impression that I am being devious about this. What will I have to do to make your ilk understand that this is not a hidden agenda. THIS IS MY OPENLY STATED CONVICTION.

    Your next question about whether I have received any benefits from the US government. I could just as logically ask you whether you are in the pay of Eurofighter or Rafale, but I won't ask. Since you are posting anonymously, there is no accountability expected from you. You are not an entity at all, just a name-calling anonymous poster.

    But to set the record straight for other visitors to Broadsword, I have never received a single cent (in any currency) from the US government, nor have I ever been their guest.

    To set the record even straighter, I have never received a single cent (in any currency) from Lockheed Martin, nor have I ever been their guest.

    I have, in fact, done stories that Lockheed Martin believed to be most damaging to their interests, and to which they reacted strongly in letters to my editor. Those stories are posted on this blog, but name-calling, unreasoning, anonymous entities you will not be bothered to read them.

    So don't ever argue a case on merit, Mr Anonymous. Just whine, as is the case with so many anonymous blog posters, that anyone with opposing views has been bribed by someone.

  33. Mongo:

    We can laugh all we want at Lockheed Martin. But remember one thing: they are highly unlikely to have a top executive make a comment, on the record, under his own name, that the company believes to be untrue.

    Lockheed Martin's claim about the cost of the fighter being 60-70 million is, similarly, an on-the-record claim by a top LM executive. But, as everyone who knows this business knows, figures can vary widely depending upon what you include in it. In this case, the LM executive is clarifying that this is the fly-away cost of the F-35 and that all the other components of a MMRCA-type contest would raise the price considerably.

    The article also gives you a good idea about how the Indian contract will be costed.


    This contract, and the benchmarking that is happening, is not about the "per piece" price of the MMRCA. As the article makes clear, it is about adding up all the components (the fly-away price is just one of seven components, and not even the biggest one!) and then reaching a grand total.

    @ Pawan

    About my having an interest in Lockheed Martin, I hope what I have written above clears your mind?

  34. I have to raise few issues here:

    1.)at no cost US is going to transfer full technology to India of F-35.
    2.) there is no way that these F-35 going to cost just 60-70 million and there full cost after all the advancements might be double of this amount.
    3.) Typhoon & rafale are giving India full technology & also stating that India can be partner in this project which could be very helpful for our aviation industry.
    4.)after performing such a drastic process which the IAF personnel says that they want to patent, i don't think MOD would scrap this deal & making our national security at threat just because of cost.

    I want to also ask if you have some profit associated with the Indian selection of F-35, as you seem to be a staunch supporter of F-35 all the way.

    I want to say to all the Indians that they should have some trust in the MOD & IAF that they will not put national security in jeopardy just because the aircraft is breaking the ceiling cost, and lets wait for there decision.

  35. the biggest overseas project in the world....why do you indians BS everything?

  36. Colonel with due respect,

    IAF guys are dumb..why don't they are not doing anything to bring lightning-2 home, and is it correct to trust USA considering their record with their allies i.e. Iran, Pakistan, Taliban, China etc to name a few. Won't they will get a direct access into Indian military policy.

  37. Scrap the buy. Plough the money into a aerospace complex with a military-govt labs-private model with funds being contingent on reaching certain milestones of development.

  38. Shuklaji.

    You are being way too charitable to LM, not because of vested interests as you have clarified repeatedly, but perhaps you have not been following the JSF program consistently. Its in deep trouble. Please read through Aviationweek and Ares blog at Aviationweek, google for Aviationweek and Ares. You will see how problematic the program is, and why many JSF execs have made crazy announcements that didnt happen.

  39. Ajai sir

    I request you to please write a column about comparison between JSF-35 Vs Eurofighter Vs Rafale.

    Thats the only way to clear all the doubts in peoples mind (including me) as to why JSF-35 is best for India.

    However in the current scenario, what we need is numbers and not superior technology for which we will have to wait for few years to materialize. Not to forget the restrictions like CISMOA, BECA, ToT and others.

    I still feel there is no need to go for the 3rd 5th generation heavy JSF-35 as we will start inducting 2 new 5th generation aircraft by early coming decade

    1. The 30 ton plus FGFA
    2. The 20 ton plus AMCA

    As you put forward your point about
    JSF-35, I will put up the case for Mirage 2000 on sale from UAE and Greece.

    These Mirage 2000 totaling about a 100 will be enough to keep 2 squadrons for SFC for nuke bombing and still we will be left will 100+
    Mirage 2000 in fighter role.

    We need to remember that IAF wants to numbers (being severly short) quickly. If at all MMRCA deal is scrapped, then Mirage 2000 is the way to go, to make up for delay in LCA induction, obselense of MiGs and arrival of FGFA, AMCA and 272 Sukhois.

    This way we will save a lot of money. Instead we can invest this money to develop a 10 ton plus 5th generation single engine fighter.
    We will have a 30 ton plus, 20 ton plus and a 10 ton plus 5th generation fighter gaurding our airspace well into late 2060s.

    waiting for your opinion please


    Joydeep Ghosh

  40. i see that Ajai is heavily weighted in favor of the so called 5th gen JSF, well if i had the position to buy i would if at all JSF purchase would not take us another decade to just "approve" the bids, after tests etc.

    what i mean is, we don't want to chase a future target and then another one and then another future one, we need to get something we can, that too immediately, drooling for the f35 is OK, but understand the need, we need the jets NOW, and after a long exercise that took us a decade we should not ink it ASAP.

    OR-- another option is to buy more of something we have (it would've been wiser to buy the assembly lines of the mirage 2000-5MK2 when France was selling it to us)
    like mirage, mig29(by simply ordering mig 35 govt-govt) but i would not say the su30 because that class can leave us vulnerable in many dimensions, eg: maintenance, cost to fly, same heavy type weaknesses that all may know. --- AND then buy the f35 or heck just make the PAK-FA instead.

    so now that we see ourselves in this condition, i would rather buy the MMRCA out of these 2 than drool over F35, i feel strongly that Ajay ji's hated purchase of these 2 instead of the F35 is a childish "Jid" because both these jets are quite capable in smashing pakistani or Chinesze airplanes in thir service lives and for the future we do have more options.

    so lets be practical and understand that this "patch fix" is important for the air-force.

  41. I don't understand the process here. They spent years narrowing it down to 2 planes. Now they are asking price? While I agree that you want the best plane you can get. India is in need of a great many planes. Price could matter allot if you could buy 1.5 of one plane for the cost of one of the others.

  42. @Deepak 18.02: "Can any one tell me as to why all the nations operating the Eurofighter and Rafale and Israel are lining up to buy F35 and so are the rest of the Nato countries?": well, far from that. Amongst EF nations, three intend to buy F-35: the UK, Italy and Spain. Germany has no plan for F-35, never. Rafale customers, so far only the French but UAE and Brazil may be on the way...none has any plan for F-35. Some other NATO nations may buy F-35: Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, perhaps some others but I don't find any. As a summary, your argument is a bit too much...

  43. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program: Collapse is a “When” Question, not an “If” Question: Air power Australia.


    Just because JSF is a 5th generation american aircraft does not mean it is the best available. American has produced duds before like the F-105 thunderchief, where half the fleet was shot down by migs in Vietman. It was a fat heavy unmaneoverable aircart like the JSF and it's pilots called it the "lead sled", others called it "thud" because of the sound it made when it hit the ground.

  44. But Mr. Shukla, are you not worried about what implications might be there if we buy US Fighters...Thats the single most hindering question in the mind of most of the skeptics..they want us to sign CISMOA, BECA and what not..I sniff CIA and US hidden agenda everywhere..Pardon my ignorance but this is my conjectural question, and would be happy to have an epiphany in this regard...thanks..hoping that you bother to answer this.

  45. Sir ,
    Can India afford to maintain 3 types of 5th gen aircraft since their maintenence cost is high . . . . and hence rather go for more 4.5 gen rafale or eurofighter ?

  46. I apologize for posting anonymously, but why don't we cancel the MMRCA contract and use the money we set aside for it on the AMCA program? That way, we get our on 5th gen fighter, get a significant punch in our capabilities, and don't have to buy the F-35

  47. There is a very basic concept in Indian law. Innocent until proven guilty. Also the party making the allegation has to provide the basis of its allegation before the accused is expected to make its defence.

    So Mr Shukla is a strident supporter of the F-35 and has been one for quite some time. As far as i know, it is not yet a crime to go against popular opinion [sic]. Instead of making wild allegations about supposed bias or underhand dealings, how about the "anonymous" posters come up with a reasoned argument about why Mr Shukla's analysis is flawed.

  48. sir any update on the EW version of the Tejas??

  49. If Rafale is cheaper than the EFT, then Rafale should be purchased in only 126 Nos and nothing more. Apart from many other factors, Rafale at least suits better in the matters of logistics.

    The process of purchasing F-16 may be like playing chess against Vishwanathan Anand, wherein we know the end result even before the first move.

    The logic of succeeding in the air operations against the fourth world countries like Libya, Iraq, Afghan or even Vietnam does not justify much except providing some practical testing and experiences.

    You see, in 1960 India liberated Goa from Portugal in festival mode against the wishes of the first world and within two years it got uprooted in retaliations at Northern and NE fronts as a part of a combination of clever moves.

  50. Its not the largest deal, both UK and Germany have equal or more numbers on order.

  51. MMRCA contect and F-35 info again...Brother Ajai,I pronounce you holier that the Pope!!

  52. Your point is bang on but only for the benchmark... you have still not explained how the price of the F-35 would fit into all this. It is well known the f-35 is a lot more expensive than 4++ gen birds. And the MMRCA is an excuse for India to kickstart its nascent aerospace industry. How would the F-35 meet that need?. When you find out what TOT they will offer please put it up on your blog. This merry group of posters will then debate with you again.

    Bit off topic, but this is also why ADA/HAL needs to surprise us with the quick release of LSPs, this would convince everyone that they can deliver aircarft 'ON TIME'. Maybe then the AMCA design and development can also be opened up. For this they need to take one[and only one] beautiful example from DRDO - PRAHAAR which was, First execute... then talk - those guys[DRDO] now have my respect.

  53. Irrespective of whether or not anyone agrees with Ajai's JSF argument, the point is that the MMRCA shortlist is deeply dubious. Why select two of the most expensive radars both of which have underdeveloped desktop radars ? It makes NO sense.

  54. Why don't we cancel the MMRCA contract, avoid the F-35 and spend the money on pucca housing and clean drinking water for the poor instead?

  55. ajai, can you tell us how and how exactly, despite ITAR laws, US will give India TOT for the JSF? they are not willing to customize israeli planes with israeli eqpt, have haggled with UK (a closer ally than middle of the way india) for software codes. its not all about price but also about independence of choice when it comes to sustaining the product.

  56. Cancelling the MRCA contest at this stage could drag this acquisition program on endlessly. In fact it could become like the artillery acquisition program for the Indian Army, where tenders are cancelled after extensive evaluation, and the soldiers are left with nothing to fight with.

    As far as the F 35 goes Shukla's price quote of $60-$65 million is nothing but complete deception. it is difficult for me to believe that a smart and informed guy like Shukla can the so disconnected with reality when it comes to the price of this aircraft.

    The price of this aircraft is at least twice as much even per Wikipedia. a number of countries which are acquiring this aircraft like Australia, Canada, the UK, Norway, and even in the US there has been widespread consistent and intense criticism of this program. The UK has decided to not buy any vertical takeoff and landing variant. It has reduced its order from 170 to 50 aircraft. the Harper government in Canada has come under tremendous political pressure and criticism for backing this deal. in Australia the government's decision to go for the F 35 and not wait for the F-22 has drawn intense flak. Norway is considering an open competition where the F 35 would be evaluated against other modern aircraft, which will surely reveal that it is an aerodynamic dud. The Defence Secretary in the US has made it official that the vertical takeoff variant of this program will be permanently cancelled unless all the technical issues are sorted out within 2 years.

    And the currently estimated price of $120 million is only an estimate, it is not the final price. This is the price assuming that will suddenly start meeting all of its milestones, each and every one of which it has failed to meet in the past. Lockheed has gone back to the Pentagon 4 times to ask for more money than was sanctioned for the development of this aircraft.

    The problem with the F 35 is that too much was demanded from the aircraft designer: a supersonic vertical takeoff tri-service stealth bomb truck. Not even America can defy the laws of physics.

    When you design an aircraft to combine the qualities of multiple different aircrafts, sometimes you end up with an aircraft which combines the weaknesses of all the aircraft it was supposed to replace. That aircraft is the F 35. the one thing which truly destroyed the program was the requirement for vertical takeoff and landing, because that forces in a tremendous number of design constraints on the designer. They had to fit it with a massive single-engine to generate enough thrust to lift vertically. As a consequence the fuselage is extremely big to accommodate both the massive engine and enough fuel to give it at least some range. this creates tremendous drag. The turning performance of this airframe per official Lockheed Martin figures is worse than the big and bulky F 4 Phantom from the Vietnam War. the aircraft requires a hundred hours on the ground for every one hour of flight.

    I could go on and on about why the F 35 program is a failure, but that information is freely available to all who are interested in looking at it. I am baffled by how consistently and intensely Shukla has made a case for the F 35 for for the IAF. No other journalist has done so. From the quality of his writing, I know that Shukla is a patriot, and an extremely sharp guy, therefore, it is logical for people to suspect that his case for the F 35 is not a case of simple and innocent misinformation.

  57. On 11 March 2010, a report from the Government Accountability Office to United States Senate Committee on Armed Services projected the overall unit cost of an F-35A to be $112M in today's money.

  58. In 2010, Pentagon officials disclosed that the F-35 program has exceeded its original cost estimates by more than 50 percent. An internal Pentagon report critical of the JSF project states that "affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar". On 24 March, Gates termed the recent cost overruns and delays as "unacceptable" in a testimony before the U.S. Congress. He characterized previous cost and schedule estimates for the project as "overly rosy".

  59. "In 2011, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer Ashton Carter said that the new $133 million price per aircraft was not affordable."

  60. @anon18.03: ask IAF to rewrite its QR ! Selection process, remember ? Read the DPP and you may understand.

  61. Very very interesting blog post on Forbes.com regarding F35 that backs up the $65-70Million flyaway cost that LM rep in India quoted. It is still not too late to plavce the order with F35-World's only fifth generation stealth multirole fighter.


  62. Does it really matter what the amours in the market say about the F35 price, if India gets an iron clad guaranteed price and delivery schedule? No, it does not. Any new program incurs delays and hurdles in the development process. Luckily, the most technologically advanced country, United States of America, is leading the project to build it. The aircraft in all its three variants is making great progress. Two full production aircraft have already been delivered to the US Airforce 33rd. squadron for pilot training. 31 production planes are under construction at the LM plant in Texas.

    Just an update. Now two F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters have been delivered at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida during July 2011. The aircraft are the first two full production models and not prototypes, and were delivered to the 33rd Fighter Wing for immediate induction and commencement of training. This should take care of the naysayers who doubted if the JSF would materialise any time soon.

    F35 JSF Lightening II, is the only fifth generation multi-role air dominance aircraft out there. Today is the world of BVR warfare. Long before F35 is even detected, it would vanquish its enemies and be long gone. Why give IAF second or third best, when THE best aircraft might be available, provided CISMOA and End User agreements are signed. There is a plan to produce over 4500 F35s. India is surrounded by enemies with growing capabilities.

    Folks, there is no comparison between Eurofighter/Rafale/SU30MKI etc with the worlds most advanced stealth fighter/GA aircraft available out there for sale. F22 Raptor is not for export.

    Eurofighter deal does bring EADS experience and technologies not just for the MMRCA for for across the board aviation related benefits. However, we need a strategic partnership with US to protect our strategic interests. India should sign the CISMOA and other enabling agreements for the transfer of most sensitive US technologies to India. There is no point getting the C130J-30s, P8I-Poseidon and other Technology platforms without the full fledged equipment. 

    No country would share their crown jewel technology without safeguards and end use monitoring to prevent it falling in the wrong (Russian) hands. In the event of any hostilities with China, Pakistan would surely jump in fro the West and the North, we would need inter-operability with US, which is the only country likely to intervene in our favor. Too much is being listened to the foreign policy wonks regarding lack of China's posture against us. These same people were wrong leading up to 1962 and they are wrong now

  63. JSF Projected Sales.

    9 participating countries in the F35- Joint Strike Fighter, world's ONLY fifth generation multi-role stealth fighter program, US, UK, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and Turkey alone have signed on for 3173 F35 variants through 2035, in the MOU signed in 2006. Israel is placing confirmed orders for 40 F35s with a projected need for 100 plus aircraft to replace its F16s. Japan, Korea, Singapore have all expressed solid interest. The remaining NATO countries and US allies would more than like will all end up buying F35.

    Let me share my logic behind my initial estimate of F35 sales. It is based on the historical sales data of F15, F16, and F18 aircraft which F35 intends to replace in conjunction with the F22 Raptor.

    Since 1975, 1534 F-15A/B/C/D/E/J/DJ Eagle and Strike Eagle Fighters were produced. Saudi Arabia has just placed an order of 84 F15SA jets

    Since 1976, 4450 F16-Fighting Falcon multi-role aircraft were produced and production for export orders for Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, and iraq is underway.

    Since 1978, 1478, F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet multi-role fighter were  produced.
    In addition, 630 F/A-18 E/F/G Super Hornet versions have been produced. 
    Canadian has built 138 F/A F18 Hornets.

    That brings the total number of F15s, F16s & F18s produced so far to 8230.  Therefore a number of 4,500 F35s being produced is a credible estimate by me. Cheers!

  64. That reaction is understandable given the pace at which cost estimates are rising. However, what got lost in the exchange was the distinction between estimates and actual costs. The more you examine the program’s track record to date and the methods utilized to calculate future costs, the less clear the program’s real price-tag becomes. In terms of the track record so far, the contractor has repeatedly delivered early production planes for less than the Pentagon estimated they would cost, and its internal projection is that it will be able to market the most common version of the p lane at about the same price that its F-16 fighter currently sells for overseas – about $65 million each..

    The above is from the blog post on Forbes.com

  65. If for a time everyone forgets about the problems and weaknesses of F-35 and starts talking in favor of the inclusion of F-35 in the IAF and cancellation of MMRCA, then the prices of F-35 may further go up with demand and the EFT/Rafale will be more and more stretched either to provide the better TOT or to reduce their bloated prices to the affordable levels. This may be a great service to the nation.

  66. The A-10 is what India needs in addition to MMRCA: it will tear up paki tanks in the Thar desert by the dozen in minutes. It is going to stay in US service till 2028. Can get a 50 for a 1 Billion $ US.

    It's performance in the Gulf war was spectacular. From Wikipedia:

    "The A-10 was used in combat for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991, destroying more than 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 military vehicles, and 1,200 artillery pieces. A-10s shot down two Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 cannon. The first of these was an Iraqi helicopter shot down by Captain Robert Swain over Kuwait on 6 February 1991, marking the A-10's first air-to-air victory.[66] Four A-10s were shot down during the war, all by surface-to-air missiles. Another three battle-damaged A-10s and OA-10As returned to base but were written off, some sustaining additional damage in crashed landings.[67][68][69] The A-10 had a mission capable rate of 95.7%, flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict.[70] Shortly after the Gulf War, the Air Force gave up on the idea of replacing the A-10 with a close air support version of the F-16.[71]"

  67. Combat Aircraft’s latest air power update finds US Naval Aviation in the year of its 100th anniversary celebrations.

  68. Just a reminder to every one, the Mirage 2000 was not that "potent" during Kargil "Safed Sagar" in 1999, became operation "Vijay" only after Israelis showed up with laser guide precision munitions for Mirage which "helped turn the war" in India's favour according to the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Sofer. We also must not forget that US gave its tacit approval for the Israeli action in a sign of emerging friendly relations between the two natural allies.

    Sales of Phalcon AWACs and other high tech defence products have only happened due to US approval.

    We must expedite our efforts to get F35A, the world's only fit generation multi-role stealth fighter. Every thing eels is just waste of time. If we truly wanted to upgrade Mirages, we would have bought Mirage 2000-9 available for sale from UAE and Mirage 2000-5 Mark 2 from Greece. Mirage 2000-9 being the most sophisticated Mirage 2000 vaiant and Mirage 2000-5 Mark 2 is what we would get starting in 4 years with all 52 being completed in 10 years. Is there a logic in MODs decision? Absolutely not. 

    CAG should investigate this matter now, before it is too late. Some one should raise this matter in the current parliament.

    According to some reports, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her latest visit offered F35 to India on "unbelievable" both on price and delivery schedule. Eurofighter and Rafale, the down-selected MMRCA candidates are still going to be a non-stealthy 4.5 gratin aircraft. All we need to sign is the CISMOA and BECA enabling agreements necessary for hi-tech transfer. Over 60 countries have signed these agreements with US to access world class technologies. Even Pakistan has signed these agreements with US before they received the P3C Orion and F16 C/D Block 52 aircraft. All Nato countries, Japan, South Korea and every other country receiving US arms have signed it. 

    Some bureaucrats in Indian establishment do not support the growing strategic Indo-US relationship and thus are causing roadblocks Ike recommending against signing these agreements by propagating preposterous implications of signing these agreements, like our equipment would be turned off by US during a war with Pakistan. How dumb can some one be by suggesting these stories? Let me very clear, even if we use the sub-standard equipment from BEL etc, US has technologies to intercept any frequencies if it were to ever desire, which it has no reason to. India needs to step. Out and shake off coldwar paranoia and embrace in a strong strategic partnership based on equality and mutual trust.

    Our continued reluctance in signing these routine agreements creates doubts in US regarding our sincerity in safe guarding their technology. Enough already! 

  69. Joydeep, I've also been suggesting the M2K purchase from UAE & Greece. Unfortunately, our view don't count and the IAF idiots still prefer to wait for 10-15 years for 'new' jets to come on line while their jets and pilots fall from the sky.

  70. @ Anonymous Aug 3,2011  21:03

    A10 Thunderbolt II -"Warthog" is a close air support, ground attack aircraft of the US Airforce. A10 was inducted in US Airforce in 1972, over 716 were produced and the last plane was manufactured in 1984. US is the sole operator of the aircraft, as they were never sold to another country.

    A-10 Thunderbolt II uses the GAU-8/A Avenger, a 30 mm, seven-barrel Gatling-type rotary cannon as its main weapon. The plane carries 1150 of the uranium depleted rounds firing at either 3900 rounds per minutes bursts with devastating effects. The plane is also used as a forward air controller (FAC).  367 A10s are currently in service with the US Air force and Air force reserve. They are due to be replaced by F35-JSF in 2028.

    Since, A10 is not an available option, we must conclude the trials for AH-64D Block III Apache Longbow helicopters along with AGM-114 HEllfire Longbow and Hellfire II missiles, Stinger air-to-air Block I-92H missiles.

    Current projections of 28 helicopters is grossly inadequate. India needs 70-90 of these lethal helicopters to form a credible army aviation wings that would move with our strike forces. These helicopters have a proven track record of its unmatched lethality and performance. The Apache on offer to India is the latest version, with all current US Apaches being upgraded to this standard.  

  71. @ Anonymous 18:51

    Thanks for endorsing my point of view. I feel that the Mirage 2000 upgrade contract that has been signed for completion in 10 years has got some thing thats' not being said.

    Even the Mig 29 upgrades are expected to be over by 2018, I strongly feel that this long period has been decided taking into account the sale of 68 Mirage 2000 from UAE by France to a 3rd country replacing them with Rafales (possibly India) as and when UAE agree to buy the Rafales.

    As for 38 Greek Mirage 2000 (the last in production line) there is very good chance we can lay hands on them provided MoD does not procastinate like it did on Varyag (it went to China for US $20 million).

    Add 52+68+38=158, after putting 42 upgraded planes exclusively for SFC we will still have more than 5 squadrons of Mirage 2000 at our disposal, till the time FGFA, AMCA induction starts and HAL supplies 140 LCA and 272 Sukhoi 30MKI.

    This will also allow us to reduce the number of planes bought under MMRCA (post benchmarking)

    As for our viewpoint not being taken in to account, thing is we are common man discussing things, an common mans view holds no place in power circles. sigh!!!


    Joydeep Ghosh

  72. @ Deepak Datta

    this is in reference to your last post. As you said not country will supply sensitive tech to other countries lest it falls into other countries hand (you say Russia, I say blah).

    How can you expect India (IAF) to sign CISMOA, BECA and other agreements and give up operational independence, in return for technology.

    As for what you said about Mirage 2000, please refer to what i said in my last post. I think that will be more plausible explanation.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  73. I totally Agree with you Me. deepak datta. I think india not buying F-35 is to do with paranoid and to some extend corrupt Babus of MoD.
    Countries never have permanent friends or foes. Every country has to assess and change its outlook on basis of developing Geo-political scenario & economic trends for welfare and safety of its citizens.

    American and Indian interest are converging and likely to remain same for at least next 3 to 4 decades. So It is opportunity to bolster Military ties.

    India need american technology in all fields whether it is defense or agriculture or healthcare and deeping defense ties are always seen as evidence of trust between two nations. Israel followed this policy and used american technology to grow militarily and economically.

  74. @ 6 Aug 10:15 Joydeep Ghosh

    Could you please cite the "operational freedom" India stands to lose by Signing CISMOA, BECA, and other agreements?

    These are baseless red herrings devoid of any facts. India must not miss the bus this time. In late 50's US offered India a seat in the security council, India refused, suspecting hidden agendas of US, which there were none. US was simply aligning and recognizing a democratic country. PM Nehru, asked US to offer that seat to China first?.

    We continued our alignment with the soviets and turned into pseudo-communist socialist policies and that in turn brought US closer to Pakistan.

    US stuck its neck out for India in the US India nuke deal. US truly recognizes the grave threat posed by brutal communist Chinese regime and is offered India these arms to defend her self when the Chinese attack would occur. It is not a question of when and not if Chinese would attack India along with Pakistan. India would do well to beef up its defensive capabilities.

    200-250 F35s would go a long way in achieving that goal without giving up ANY operational freedom. This should be even if India inducts PAK/FA T-50 FGFA, which undoubtedly would be inferior to the F35 based on historical performance of Soviet/Rus/Ian aircraft.

    The question to be answered if, does not want to be a true regional and global power? If yes, then US and her allies are the best bet for India.

    Is it unfair for US to ensure that their world class technologies be protecting? Absolutely not.

  75. There is some thing very interesting. In blogs, news web sites comments etc there seems to be a lot of US bashing or aspirations being cast on US's intention vis-a-vis India. But I have a million dollar question: if there are 10 green cards sitting on a table. Along with its Russian equivalents, how many US green cards would be left on the table after 10 persons are given an option?

    The answer unequivocally would be ZERO. I do not wish to disparage Russia, which helped India in the past. However, in a indo-Sino conflict it cannot be counted on to assist India. Folks, the Chinese dragon and its proxy Pakistan are encircling India and preparing for a surprise attack. There would not be a Chinese attack with Pakistan jumping in to tie-up the focus in the North and Western borders.

    Foreign policy wonks were wrong in 1962 and they are wrong today that Chinese have peaceful intentions. Chinese is becoming a threat to the wor,ld peace and is a grave threat to all its neighbors.

  76. @ Deepak Datta -

    Sir, you have touched a very raw nerve by bringing up chacha Nehru's misplaced statesmanship vis-a-vis the UNSC seat :) :)

    As for the greencards, there is now a thriving business in China for "birth tourism". Chinese women who are about 7 months pregnant go to visit the US for 3 months, and stay in Chinese run brithing centres, so that their babies are born with US citizenship. Tangential information, but interesting I think :)

  77. @Deepak Datta

    It seems you absolutely gave my previous post a miss you dont seem to understand the logic of opposition to F-35 JSF. Let me give it another try:

    1. FGFA, a 30 ton plus 5 generation aircraft will be in service with IAF from early next decade

    2. AMCA, a 20 ton plus 5 generation aircraft will be in service with IAF from middle of next decade (possibly)

    So it will not be viable to induct another 30 ton plus 5 generation aircraft, the F-35 JSF into IAF purely on economic reasoning as well as for logistical reasons.

    If we do need to go for a 3rd 5 generation aircraft, then it should be a 10 ton plus single engine aircraft, then we will have

    1. FGFA, 2 engine 30 ton plus
    2. AMCA, 2 engine 20 ton plus
    3. Future LCA 1 engine 10 ton plus

    By the way who told you that US tech is far superior to Russian tech. Let me give you some instances

    1. Entire F-35 JSF has been grounded last week because of some electrical failure in in-flight system

    2. Entire F-22 (the costliest ever built) has been grounded for over 1 month for issues with oxygen support system.

    I feel we should give it a new name 'F-22 Ostrich', a bird that cant fly.

    3. You say Russian tech is inferior to US tech, its said some years back CIA stole the blueprint of Zhuk Phazotron AESA radar from Russia, if the US was so ahead of Russia why it steal the blueprints.

    My giving these point a though


    Joydeep Ghosh


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