Brazil chooses Gripen over Rafale; opens door for Indian navy - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 29 October 2014

Brazil chooses Gripen over Rafale; opens door for Indian navy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30 Oct 14

Brazil’s decision to buy the Swedish JAS-39E/F Gripen (or Gripen NG) has opened a tantalizing possibility for India’s defence ministry (MoD), which is frustrated after 33 months of negotiations with French company, Dassault on the proposed purchase of 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

On Monday, October 27, Swedish defence giant, Saab, which builds the Gripen, announced that Brazil had signed a contract for 36 Gripen NG fighters for US $5.475 billion.

Brazil chose the Gripen NG over the Rafale (Dassault, France) and the F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing, USA).

Brazil will now ask Saab to develop the Sea Gripen, says defence analyst, INS Jane’s. Twenty-four of these “navalised” fighters will equip Brazil’s aircraft carrier, Sao Paulo.

IHS Jane’s also highlights the Indian Navy’s need for the Sea Gripen for two carriers that Cochin Shipyard is building --- the 40,000 tonne INS Vikrant and a larger, yet unnamed, successor referred to as the Future Indigenous Carrier.

So far, the Indian Navy had planned to fly a naval version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) --- the Naval Tejas --- from these carriers. However, the Naval Tejas, which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is developing, may not be ready for service by 2018, when the Vikrant will be commissioned.

The Sea Gripen constitutes a new option as the Vikrant’s light fighter. The navy already has a medium fighter, the MiG-29K, on order from Russia.

Indian analysts, like Manoj Joshi of Observer Research Foundation, say buying the Sea Gripen would let the DRDO engage Saab as a design partner for the Naval Tejas and Tejas Mark II, both advanced versions of the current Tejas Mark I.

In 2011, then DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat, had approached Saab to collaborate in developing the Tejas Mark II. In 2012, the DRDO and Saab held detailed discussions. In January 2013, Saab was issued a Request for Proposal, which the DRDO examined and discussed. Yet nothing came of it.

The DRDO’s interest in Saab stems from the numerous technical parallels between the Tejas and the Gripen. Both are light fighters in the 14-tonne class. Whilst developing the Gripen NG, Saab changed the engine to the more powerful General Electric F-414 turbofan, and added more fuel; which is exactly what the DRDO proposes for the LCA Mark II. Fitting the bulkier, heavier F-414 into the Tejas would require re-engineering of the fuselage; a problem that Saab has promised to solve.

“The greatest benefit to the Tejas Mark II could be from the Gripen’s superb networking. Aerial combat is no longer about eye-catching aerobatics; it is about data links; networking, and cockpit avionics, which is Saab’s strength,” says Joshi.

The DRDO was also hoping to learn from Saab’s maintenance philosophy, which has made the Gripen the world’s most easy-to-maintain fighter. According to independent estimations, the Gripen requires three-five man-hours of maintenance per flight hour. That means, after an hour-long mission, 6-10 technicians require only 30 minutes to put the fighter back in the air.

In contrast, the Rafale is estimated to require 15 maintenance man-hours per flight hour; while the F-35 Lightening II requires 30-35 man-hours.

According to a Jane’s study, the operating cost of the Gripen is $4,700 per hour. The Rafale is thrice as expensive, at $15,000 per hour.

“The Tejas Mark I has not been designed with operational availability in mind. It is a maintenance nightmare, with sub-systems inaccessible. The Tejas Mark II will need Saab’s help in radically re-engineered these,” says a DRDO engineer.

Senior Saab officials say, off the record, they are keen to partner India in developing the Tejas Mark II. They say the Tejas Mark II, built cheaply in large numbers, would eliminate the need for a heavy, costly, highly sophisticated fighter like the Rafale. Saab sees major profit in co-developing the Tejas Mark II.

Brazil’s contract for 36 Gripen NGs comes on top of Stockholm’s decision to buy 60 of these fighters for the Swedish Air Force.

In 2011, Switzerland too had selected the Gripen over the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon. However, in an astonishing, nationwide referendum on the proposed $3.5 billion purchase, the Swiss people voted to spend the money instead on education, transport and pensions.

The current version of the Gripen NG, the Gripen D, is currently in operational service with the Swedish, Czech, Hungarian, South African and Royal Thai Air Forces, and also with the UK Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS).


  1. @sea... single... engine... N-tejas... will do...

  2. During Dr V K Saraswat there was talks of joint development of Tejas mk2 but it fell out because the Saab wanted 51% of IPR, which meant they wanted to control everything of the tejas. Which was unacceptable to DRDO, thts why Dr Avinash Chander always says "Tejas will be completly indigenous fighter"

  3. The single engine naval gripen is similar to naval tejas which India has already committed to procure in future. Instead dual engine Rafale-M is suitable for working in naval conditions. For future heavy carriers, fighters(Rafale-M) with greater payload & endurance will be selected. If STOVL is reqd. then single engine F-35 is the ideal candidate.

  4. Why we did not chose Gripen is a mystery. Any way now if Navy is going to buy Naval Gripen then they will have three types of fighters. 1) Mig 29 K 2) Naval Tejas and 3 ) Naval Gripen. It will be logistical nightmare. So now if we have to accommodate Gripen then we should close the Rafael chapter. But that can not be closed. So only way we can get help from SAAB to pay hefty fees ( if they agree) and get the modification done for Tejas MK 2.

  5. Keeping in mind that the MMRCA fighters are supposed to be active well beyond 2020, any delay in finalization will only risk their early obsolescence. Countries are already moving to fifth generation types. Anyone with any idea of MOD's defence acquisition process known very well that for the IAF, its either the Rafale or nothing. India will have to live with the extra cost of its botched-up selection and finalization process. We need the Rafale now, give us no more distractions.

  6. As per Wikipedia Gripen NG will cost USD 27000 / Hour, Flyaway cost USD 113 M, and Brasil got it for USD 152M. with approx 20 Billion Lifecycle cost, we are getting Rafale for USD 158M. Gripen's radar Raven ES-05 is from Selex es, whose parent company is Finmeccanica. If there is so much necessary to spend 113M on flyaway option, why not go for F35 B. much cheaper fly away cost. Or Rafale M...

  7. Hi Col. Shukla,

    A few years back an RFI was put out for Naval fighters (other than MiG 29 K).

    Is the tender still on or has been discarded/postponed?

  8. Buying and codeveloping Gripen aircraft with Saab is far better than just buying off the self rafales, any day. If Saab agrees for full TOT. We can agree for 49%. This would make more sense than buying rafale for India. It will help develp our indigenous capability more than Rafale. We would spend only 1/3rd of the money for buying gripen. Operating cist will also be 1/3rd of what we spend on rafale. It will also help finish our Tejas really quickly.

  9. Hi: I think this a great jet, but questions to ponder will be, with this deal, will Saab have a positive effect on Tejas program or will the Navy/services use it as a stick to kill Tejas. Both are similar jets, [same engines etc.] and then there is question of logistics of maintaining three jets [29Ks, N-Tejas], training, weapons, etc.

    I think a better approach would be we use Saab/LMT/BAe or any other western firm as consultant for Tejas. This would be consistent with current administrations 'Make in India' program, create jobs, investment, and we can have a homemade jet flown by both IAF and Navy.

    Just my two cents...

  10. Parthasarathi, you ignorant doofus !

    We did not choose Gripen, because Tejas Mk.1 was already in the throes of development. Agreed, they offered the so-called 'NG', but the Mk.2 was also under development. It would've been a shame to procure a foreign fighter spending billions, while an indigenous one (with the exact specs) is almost ready.

    Actually, IAF wanted a Mirage-2000, that lay in the "middle" of the MiG-21 and the Su-30.

    But now that the Tejas is faar far more than a MiG-21, and actually equates a Mirage-2000 and older MiG-29s, IAF was in a fix ! How to justify the MRCA purchase ?

    Simple! Add an extra 'M' to MRCA and make it MMRCA !! Then make a public statement that we need a fighter lying between Tejas and Su-30.

    Along came the parade of Rafales, F-16s, Typhoons, MiG-35 and F-18s. All it had to do was pick any one of these. Gripen was never really in the running (or flying) in the first place.


    I think DRDO must take Saab's consultancy to improve the N-Tejas. It can also take its consultancy to develop the Naval-AMCA (as suggested by a BR member). The point beng that the IN is far more indigenous-friendly than the IAF.

  11. Gripen doesn't make sense at all; it is flying on a GE-414 engine and thus open to US sanctions. Exactly the risk a Tejas MKII faces. On the other hand, a Rafale or a MIG entirely avoids American components and therefore a potential hit from American sanctions. That is a lesson we ought to have learnt very well!

  12. What advantage will Gripen NG offer over Mig 29K? It probably wont be able to carry Brahmos M. LCA-N is an albatross across IN's neck otherwise there is no need for the navy to diversify their carrier fleet when they have to few ACs.

  13. @ Abhiman

    Why you are insulting your upbringing by using so filthy languages ! I sincerely hope that you will refrain yourself from using this type of un-polished words. Any way coming to your point.
    Let me be frank that I was not present in the MMRCA selection process. ( You may be.) But it seems that after Kargil war IAF. wanted extra Mirage 2000 as the performance of Mirage 2000 was extra ordinary. But Government took years to finalize the deal, By that time the Mirage 2000 production line was closed. Now Dassault ( Pronounce : Dasu) offered us the full production line of Mirage 2000 ( as it was closed and they were making Rafael by then) and due to some reason or other we did not buy the closed production line either. ( Probably it would have been a better choice) After that Government had asked for 126 so called medium range fighter and the story is known to you.

  14. Parthasarthi:

    We all know MoD dragged its feet to purchase the Mirage-2000. Dassault then shut its assembly line. Later, India looked to purchase second-hand Qatari Mirage-2000-Vs (while they were drooling to purchase new US toys). Unfortunately, even this deal did not go through, when it could've saved us billions of dollars and given us fairly capable fighters.

    Cut to 2006-07. The IAF shamelessly sent an RFP for the Gripen C/D model, despite knowing fully well that the Tejas Mk.1 under development was an exact equivalent. Both used the same GE-F404 engine, and similar range-payload specs.

    It wasn't also that the Tejas would take 20 years more to finish; look how much time the MMRCA selection, shortlisting and negotiations have taken since 2007 ! Today the Mk.1 is ready to be inducted.

    By 2007 it was fairly clear that the Tejas would emerge as much more than an indigenous MiG-21. Its range-payload specs under development almost matched with the Mirage-2000 --- the very fighter IAF wanted to buy post-Kargil.
    By 2010, it was amply clear that Tejas will be far beyond the humble MiG-21, and actually rub shoulders with the MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s in IAF service.

    Any other sensible Air Force would've junked the MRCA proposal (note the single 'M'), and jumped wholeheartedly into the Tejas program.
    Not the IAF. What it did next is India's biggest defence SCAM.

    It quietly changed the main parameter of the MRCA, by claiming that it should be a Medium-MRCA or MMRCA. The logic being that it needed a "medium" fighter between the "light" LCA Tejas, and the "heavy" Su-30 MKI. This was first revealed in a detailed interview by an ex-IAF Chief (who is now under the CBI's scanner for bribery charges).

    The public, being blind worshippers of whatever the armed forces say, lapped it simply. This was compounded by the fact that their technical knowledge was low, and questioning the IAF was taboo, hush-hush and met with frowns.

    Cut to 2007-08: legacy fighters on steroids like F-16, F-18, MiG-29 jumped into the fray. The F-16 rechristened as Block-60 - an ugly hulk with drop-tanks seen protruding from every angle. The Russians were lazier still: they made some cosmetic changes to the MiG-29 and renamed it MiG-35.

    The Swedes were far more sensible: they realized that their C/D version was an exact match to the Tejas Mk.1, and would surely lose. So, they hurriedly cobbled a so-called "NG" version -- incidentally a match to the Tejas Mk.2 -- and entered the competition.

    In any case, the Gripen-NG was never considered seriously by IAF. It knew that even the NG was a close mach to the proposed Tejas Mk.2, with the GE-F414 engines. By the time the first squad of NGs would arrive, say, 5-7 years of negotiations, the Mk.2 would be nearly ready. Selecting NG would be tantamount to a deliberate and explicit rejection of the Tejas. IAF was well aware of the backlash that doing so would do to its image.


    Endpiece: No Air Force has this so called light-medium-heavy combo. Especially not ones with large territories. There is only a twin combo: one for deep strikes, and the other for air-interception and CAS.

    For ex, the USAF has had F-15s for the former role, and F-16s for the latter. These will be replaced with the F-22 and F-35 respectively. Similarly, Russia has Su-30 (and variants) for the deep-strike role, and MiG-29s for the air-superiority and CAS roles.

    Even next door China plans to have Su-27 (and illegal copies) as its deep-striker and the indigenous J-10 as its air-superiority and CAS fighter. Indeed, the J-10 is called "Asia's F-16".

    But India ? India's IAF invented the light-medium-heavy model to purposely box the indigenous Tejas into the corner with MiG-21. This cleared the way for an obscenely expensive, needless foreign purchase of a so called MMRCA.


  15. Parthasarathi, sorry I thought you were an arms agent touting foreign wares.

    We all know the story of Dassault's offer to give India an entire assembly line. India dragged its feet before it was closed. We even negotiated for used Qatari Mirage-2000-Vs (which would've made for superb MRCAs) but even that deal didn't go through.

    Fact is that even before the MMRCA trials began in 2011, it was amply clear that the Tejas is shaping up to be much more than a MiG-21 -- it actually resembled a Mirage-2000 and MiG-29 in IAF service.

    In fact, all this was clear back in 2007 itself, when the Tejas' specs were getting clearer. Even then, IAF could've scrapped the MRCA thing, and delved wholeheartedly into taking Tejas o the last lap.

    But instead, they boxed the Tejas into the MiG-21 category (which it clearly isn't), and declared that the MMRCA would be between the "light" Tejas and "heavy" Su-30 MKI.

    The Tejas could easily have been India's MRCA -- the one IAF wanted post-Kargil.


    No major Air Force operates a so called "light-medium-heavy" combo anymore. There's only a twin combo of deep-strike and air superiority. The USAF has F-15s for deep-stike and F-16s for air-superiority. It'll replace them by the F-22 and F-35 respectively.

    Similarly, Russia has Su-30 (and variants) for deep strike, and MiG-29s for air-superiority. Even China uses Su-30 and its illegal variants for deep-strike, and J-10 for air-superiority. Indeed, J-10 is called Asia's F-16.

    The "light-medium-heavy" idea seems pulled out of thin air to justify a foreign import.

  16. already we have contracted 45 mig29K and we have 2 carriers (Vikramaditya and Vikrant). Each of them accommodate 16 -20 fighters. Now where is the scope for any new fighters in decent numbers? Maximum a squadron would be required and that too for an economical version, Sea Gripen would have been good, but at the same time we have Naval Tejas MK-II to fill that role (if ever required). INS Vishal would at best be in service not earlier than 2025. By the time these 4th gen fighters would be obsolete. Better to go for either Naval FGFA or F35B and a mix of various next generation carrier borne-UAV (to fill the economical version). Just going for a squadron of sea-Gripen would be enormous burden on logistics, training and weapons and thus cost.

    Sreenivas R.

  17. For carrier borne operations one of the must haves is a twin engine requirement, Why ? FOD. The flight deck is a busy place and if one engine is compromised due to foreign object lying on the deck, a pilot does not have the option of relying on the second engine and coming in for landing, on land he may be able to down the aircraft safely and much of the aircraft may still be salvaged as was the case of the sukhoi recently. This is not rocket science its simple logic.

    One has to keep in mind that what we are developing here are combat aircraft and not a peaceful space exploration project. Which means that the aircraft must not only be capable of flying but must compete with an enemy aircraft in combat.

    Im no expert but here are some simple factors or questions that come to mind.

    Air To Air/ Air Defence - The PLAN is well on the way to deploy the Shenyang J 15 (copy of Su 33 with advanced capabilities) on its carriers. This heavy class fighter has a flight radius of 1750 Km, its combat radius may be lesser say about 1000 KM conservatively. Its engines can produce 135 kN of thrust with afterburner each. It has a top speed of 2.4 Mach. Clearly the Tejas, even with the GE 414 engines to be fitted in the Mk 2 version which will give the LCA 98 kN thrust and a top speed of around 1.6+ Mach will not be at a level ground with the J15 and so this role may need to be carried by the MiG 29K Air Superiority fighter. No points for guessing what will be the Navy's aircraft of choice for an air to air offensive Ops
    Air to Ground - The Tejas has a combat radius of 300 KM. If it is to operate from a carrier parked off the coast of an enemy nation. Will it have sufficient range to carry out bombing or missile attack in a country and come back. Please keep in mind that a carrier will be anchored well beyond the range of anti ship cruise missiles. The Chinese YJ-12 anti ship cruise missile has an operational range of 400 KM. The YJ-8 is a land based anti ship missile capable of striking a target 500KM away. If it can supply nuclear missiles to Pakistan illegally in peace time it can certainly do so to our enemy in times of conflict. Without air to air refueling over the ocean, the Naval Tejas will not be capable of this role.

    Considering the fact that India will be using the Aircraft carrier in the IOR, what is it that the Tejas will bring to the table?. The use of large number of light fighters may fit the Air Force's scramble fighter, fleet protection and first /local strike role. But operating on an ocean thousands of kilometers from all the supporting systems of the homeland requires, the Navy to have a small number of highly capable fighters which both the Grippen or the Naval Tejas Mk1 do not offer.

    Therefore, in my opinion, the best way would be for SAAB and HAL to co design the Mk 2 Tejas to fly longer and its navy variant to be more suited for carrier borne operations.

    1. Very well said. May be Rafale M or F-35 navy would suit us. But we should definitely go for co development with Saab for Tejas mk2 it will speed up the work 4 times, as Saab has done the same changes to Gripen.

  18. @abhiman 11:16 - a correction in your comment, the F-15 was specifically designed for an Air To Air role for NATO , deep penetration for the US AIR FORCE is done by a F117 then and is now done by B2 Stealh Bombers as evidenced in Op Desert Storm and Op Iraqi Freedom.


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