Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 16 June 2014

Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful

Saab believes co-developing Tejas Mark II with DRDO would end IAF's need for Rafale

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th June 14

More than two years after India’s defence ministry (MoD) chose to buy 126 Dassault Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF), the world’s biggest fighter contract twists in the wind. With no deal in sight after 28 months of haggling with Dassault, two of the losing vendors --- Eurofighter and Saab --- believe they could yet come out tops.

Eurofighter GmbH, whose Typhoon fighter narrowly lost out to the Rafale, still retains a senior executive in New Delhi. This is to allow Eurofighter --- the official runner-up --- to quickly step in should negotiations with Dassault collapse.

Swedish company, Saab, whose Gripen-D light fighter was evaluated but not selected, similarly believes the contract remains open. Saab places hope in a proposal that it formulated with the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) to co-develop and co-manufacture the improved Tejas Mark II Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). This affordable, indigenous, single-engine fighter could be built in numbers, providing the IAF a more economical and effective option than limited numbers of enormously expensive, twin-engine Rafales.

Saab believes that a successful Tejas Mark II would erode the need for the Rafale. The Swedish company has offered co-development and co-manufacture of the Tejas Mark II, even whilst fielding the cheapest and most economical fighter of the six in the fray.

As IAF officers confirm, India had intended to buy a cheap, light fighter to replace the IAF’s MiG-21s as they were phased out of service. In late 2004, the IAF sent out a “request for information”, to four manufacturers of small, cheap fighters --- the Russian MiG-29; the American F-16; the French Mirage-2000-5, and the Saab Gripen.

Only in August 2007, when the IAF issued a formal tender --- termed “request for proposal”, or RfP --- were expensive, twin-engine fighters like the Eurofighter, Rafale and F/A-18 regarded as options. Today, with the economy stuttering, the daunting prospect of paying Rs 1,00,000 crore for 126 fighters could mean that low cost becomes decisive.

Saab sees further advantage in backing the indigenous horse, the Tejas Mark II. The Swedish company claims it is best suited for upgrading the Tejas Mark I, since it is currently upgrading the Gripen-D by fitting a new engine, the General Electric F-414 power pack. Upgrading the Tejas Mark I to Mark II specifications involves exactly the same upgrade.

The last DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat, was convinced that Saab’s assistance would be ideal for the Tejas programme. In 2012, the DRDO sent Saab a “Request for Information” asking for a rough estimate of costs, which Saab duly submitted.

In Jan 2013, DRDO followed up with a “Request for Proposal”, or RfP, asking for technical and financial bids for Saab to jointly audit the Tejas design with DRDO. Saab had proposed an 8-10 month long audit, after which a fresh design would be finalised and a manufacturing line established.

MoD sources tell Business Standard that Saab proposed in 2011 to co-develop the Tejas Mark II and roll it out from a new manufacturing line within five years. Saab wanted at least 51 per cent ownership of the joint venture company that built the new Tejas, to be free of government controls and procedures.

By May 2013, a joint design contract seemed imminent, says Saab. But, on June 1, a new DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander, took charge and Saab was unofficially told that DRDO could not co-develop the Tejas with a foreign company without an international tender to select the partner.

Contacted for comments, a DRDO spokesperson told Business Standard that design work on the Tejas Mark II is proceeding satisfactorily without a foreign partner.

In fact, MoD sources admit the Tejas Mark II programme faces significant design challenges beyond merely fitting a new engine. The Tejas Mark I was not designed with operational availability in mind, with important systems placed in inaccessible places that take time for technicians to reach. The Gripen-D, in contrast, requires just 5 man-hours of maintenance for an hour of flying. (The figure for the Tejas in not available, but the Rafale is estimated to require 15 man-hours).

Furthermore, the new F-414 engine would require the Tejas’ length to be increased by half a metre. In addition, experts say the air intakes will have to be redesigned, since they do not allow in sufficient air for even the F-404 engine, far less the more powerful F-414 that will be fitted.

Aerospace analysts acknowledge Saab’s expertise in building economical and effective fighters. The Gripen-D costs half as much as a Rafale. International expert, Jane’s, puts the operating cost of a Gripen at $4,700 per flight hour, while flying a Rafale for an hour costs $15,000. 


  1. How much does Saab cost to buy? Am sure its a good investment if one ever thought of buying it!.

    I think we should cut red tape and partner with Saab sooner and ditch the Rafale. EF is prolly more cost effective in the long run than the French hidden costs. Another global tender for partnerships will delay mark II by five more year.

  2. how can saab gripen be selected if it had failed the rigorous evaluation trials of the IAF during the MMRCA??? also is tejas MK2 deigned or would be designed to be compliant with the evaluation parameters set by the IAF during the MMRCA selection if it is seen as a replacement of the rafale or typhoon???

  3. one factor... turns everything... its head... kargil...

  4. IAF's requirement was clearly for a twin engine aircraft- they are considered safer.

  5. That is exactly my point too. Whether we are buying Rafales or not. We need to co develop Tejas mk2 and upgrade Tejas mk1 with Saab's help. Our DRDO and HAL have never admitted the real situation. Government need to involve in this and take a firm decision to co develop with Saab. We definitely need help with Tejas. This is a good opportunity we should use it well.

  6. Colonel, you defence journalists are confusing your audience.

    Recently, Rajat Pandit, Shiv Aroor and many more reported that RAFALE deal was now only a matter of few months. It was a done deal as every other aspect of the deal was already concluded, only the price was left.

    In addition, we all knew that SAAB was out of the picture and Tejas II was being designed by DRDO-ADA in solo.Now you report that RAFALE is out of the picture and SAAB is in.

    I would accept that Mr Saraswat may swing this deal on Tejas II in SAAB's favour, if he gets PM advisory post.

    But what is actually happening on RAFALE? Whose version people like us are going to trust? Seems like soon most of you defence journalists would lose your credibility, in bulk.

  7. You may want to check this :


  8. We already have a heavy fighter in SU30. With raffle, running cost will be exorbitant . With drone technology becoming mature for strike, unless rafale offers something not on public domin we need to balance our Air Force.

  9. @ Shekhar

    I don't think you read the newspapers carefully. If Shiv Aroor and Rajat Pandit (both of whom are excellent journalists) have reported that the Rafale deal will be signed in two months, I am sure they have good reason to believe so.

    I have nowhere said that the Rafale deal will not be signed. My article says that two of the vendors who lost out to Dassault believe the game is still open. And I have detailed the strategy that one of them (Saab) is following to remain relevant.

    Don't be simplistic. Broadsword readers usually read carefully and between the lines.

  10. @Ajai sir

    dont you think this is an attempt by Saab to scuttle the Tejas Mk2 as we all know that once Tejas Mk2 rolls out it will be at par with Gripen NG.

    May be Saab is worried that Tejas Mk2 may hamper Gripen NG prospects as Gripen NG uses the same engine but still costs more than Tejas Mk2.

    Joydeep Ghosh

  11. Saab definitely not a good choice. Gripen NG will take more years to complete than Tejas MarkII. The changes in Tejas will be minimal to avoid delays and changes are almost finalized. Saab doesn't have any aircraft manufacturing in India as of now which we could utilize. Hal would already have line set for Tejas mark 1 of 16 ac's per year. what to do with all that investment. just for fun give then 51% ownership???? what is India gaining?

  12. @Broadsword,

    Thanks for your response. Now also see this: It says the RAFALE deal is stuck somewhere else.

    These Four fighters - Tejas Mark II, Rafale, AMCA and FGFA are in such information-misinformation swamp, that it needs a parliamentary question for clarification.

  13. Anything that helps kickstart the indegenous industry needs to be viewed favourably.

    Procedurally, I know it is not possible, But consider if we can modify the Rafale contract to the following -

    a) Only have outright purchase of Rafales. But keep the numbers higher than orignally envisaged (18) to..say 40 Rafales.
    b) None to be built by HAL (or curtail the numbers drastically to be built by HAL).

    1) Solves the doubts on "firm" delivery time issues.
    2) Somewhat addresses the dwindling fleet of IAF.
    3) Frees up HAL to focus on the SAAB proposal of co-developing and co-producing LCA mark-II. After all - ANYTHING THAT HELPS OUR INDIGENOUS INDUSTRY IS IN NATIONAL INTERESTS and this should be invoked to override the jalebi we tie ourselves in in the tender terms and conditions as per DPP procedures.

    Sorry the spelling errors. Typing in hurry.

  14. Dear Shukla ji

    You should understand WHY we are buying RAFALE and which plane it will replace in IAF

    Rafale will replace BOTH Mig 29 and Mirage 2000

    Tejas Mk1 and MK 2 Together will replace Mig 21 Mig 27 and Jaguar

    There is NO HURRY for Rafale
    If we show desperation
    the FRENCH will not give us a good deal

    All the 126 + 63 planes will be needed by 2030

    Right now we have NOT even completed the upgradation of Mig 29 and Mirage 2000

    If at all the Rafale deal fizzles out
    we will buy Mig 35 and More Su 30 MKI

    But NO Gripen or Eurofighter
    That is RULED OUT

  15. Abhishek Thakur, the IAF originally needed a Mirage-2000-V as its MRCA just after Kargil. Later, Gripen and F-16 C/D were invited. But after diplomatic pressures, the contest invited Rafale, Typhoon and F-18 (all overqualified for the role).

    Please get your facts right.


    If the original post-Kargil requirements are anything to go by, the IAF must induct the Tejas Mk.1 itself. Period.

    The drama, this facade of MMRCA contest in which a heavy-leaning "medium" fighter was selected is very unfortunate by 2 counts:

    1) It has relegated Tejas to a 2nd rung fighter in the IAF. Agreed, it isn't in the 'class' of a Rafale, but when it meets requirements, it should've been selected.

    2) It will cost exorbitantly more than Tejas to buy and operate.

    The best way out of this mess is to reduce the Rafale order by half i.e only 64 jets. This will save precious foreign exchange, as well as give Tejas more room to grow within IAF.

    P.S> If SAAB's consultancy accelerates the Tejas program, then take it. A white-skinned tag to the Tejas will help in its acceptance by the IAF.


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