IAF kicks off contest to make single-engine fighters in India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 8 October 2016

IAF kicks off contest to make single-engine fighters in India

Competition likely between American F-16 Block 70, and Swedish Gripen E; unless F-35 surprise offer comes in

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Oct 16

A global contest has restarted for supplying India a medium, multi-role fighter, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) inviting top international fighter jet manufacturers to set up a production facility in India.

Business Standard has learned that Indian embassies in Washington, Moscow and Stockholm wrote on Friday to fighter jet manufacturers in these countries to confirm whether they would partner an Indian company in building a medium, single-engine fighter, with significant transfer of technology to the Indian entity.

The confidential document sent by the embassies is not technically a “Request for Information” (RFI), which is a precursor to a “Request for Proposal” (also known as a tender). However, it serves the same purpose, which is to determine which vendors are interested and what they are willing to offer.

By specifying that the IAF requires a single-engine fighter, the latest letter differs from an earlier tender, issued in 2007, for 126 medium, multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). The MMRCA tender, which had no such stipulation, saw six vendors fielding four twin-engine and two single-engine fighters. The twin-engine offerings included Dassault’s Rafale, Eurofighter GmbH’s Typhoon, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and RAC MiG’s MiG-35. The single-engine fighters offered were Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper and Saab’s Gripen D.

The much-hyped MMRCA tender eventually collapsed, with the IAF last month buying a token 36 Rafale fighters. Now, the IAF has kicked off a more focused contest that will feature only single-engine fighters.

Numerous airpower experts have pointed out that the IAF needs single-engine fighters to replace the single-engine MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters that must be retired in the near future. The Rafale, a medium-heavy, twin-engine fighter, is too expensive for operational tasks that a single-engine fighter can easily manage.

While Boeing, Eurofighter, RAC MiG, Sukhoi and Dassault would technically be able to respond to the latest RFI, none of them can offer a state-of-the-art, medium, single-engine fighter. Therefore, it seems likely that New Delhi would have to choose between Saab’s Gripen E, and Lockheed Martin’s latest F-16 Block 70.

As Business Standard reported earlier, both Saab and Lockheed Martin have kicked off high-stakes, high-voltage campaigns to meet the IAF’s needs. Both have already submitted what the IAF chief described on Thursday as “unsolicited bids” for building their fighters in India.

Saab has linked its offer with assistance to the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) development programme, which is being spearheaded by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), a unit of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Saab has offered to help ADA in quickly developing the Tejas Mark IA, which the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, said required four improvements — better combat radar, more lethal weapons, dedicated electronic warfare capability and better maintainability. He said the upgraded Tejas should fly within three-four years.

Saab has also offered to help ADA develop the planned next-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is pushing an offer, made through the Indo-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), to shift its F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas to India. A new, more advanced version of the F-16, designated the Block 70, has been offered to entice India.

Air Headquarters insiders say there is little chance of India buying the F-16, a significantly advanced version of the Block 50/52 that the Pakistan Air Force operates. Since Washington is aware of this important bias, it remains to be seen whether the US seizes this opportunity to offer India the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a state-of-the-art fifth-generation fighter.

The IAF is keeping an open mind. On Thursday, Raha stated: “I’m sure whoever gives the best deal [will win]. All the aircraft are very capable, so it will depend upon who provides the best transfer of technology; and, of course, the price tag. It’s on the table; nothing is decided as yet.”


  1. iaf must to go in for gripen, they will offer us best technology transfer deals which usa can never match. also gripen is cheaper option so we can buy them in hundreds. the only problem is that it does not have a naval variant so then the navy will have to look for another option.
    we must do away with this nonsensical concept of rfi and rfp, we should go straight for G2G negotiations and finalisation, like we did for rafale.

  2. This move is good. Will restore balance of heavy and light fighters in our Airforce.
    We need to thank our PM and RM for graciously closing the MMRCA contest very quickly, ordering just 36 Rafales (with no options in the contract !)
    The 126 Rafales would have our defence budget bleeding for decades to come.
    So now our airforce could have about 120+ tejas and 90 Grippen/F-16.

    I hope the leadership does something similar to the Assault rifle requirement, have G2G deal.

  3. Agree. Everything points to Gripen. F16 is yesterday's solution. That is why LM wants to get rid of the production line. I have Heard that Saab is in the process of developing a naval version of Gripen.
    If Rafale is too expensive, it is a bit surprising that Shukla sees F35 as an option.

  4. NSR says ---

    I think F/A-18 or F-16V will do well for India...

    No one in India should not think that trying to establish another fighter production line is against Tejas I, IA, II, or AMCA...

    It is actually beneficial to get very badly needed technology for all of them...

    It also gives very badly needed political support from countries like USA, who lifted heavy weight for NSG waiver and India still needs to become a full fledged member of NSG...Russia does not help...Neither France, UK , or Europe...

    It is not that easy to ramp up Tejas I or IA production when many components comes from different countries...

    The F-404 engine(GE), Cermaic (Cobham), Refueler (Cobham), etc comes from USA/UK companies...
    Radar, targeting pod, and missiles comes from Israel...
    Gun comes from Russia(?), etc
    Some Avionics comes from some European countries...
    etc etc etc

    Also India is getting into uncertainties due to Rising China which is influencing Russia...only USA will help...trust me no one else has the clout...

    We still need a Tejas engine of our own...none going to give one except USA...

    So I recommend to go with Boeing offer to manufacture F/A-18 on the condition that they transfer 100% technology of GE F-404 and F-414 engines, AESA radar, and free to form co-development and co-production with whomever we want to develop sub-assemblies...

    Or even F-16V if Lockheed gives a better deal...

    This will solve the problem of retiring Migs and filling them with Tejas MkIA and Tejas Mk II...

    This will put India on firm footing with respect to building their own fighter and servicing it too to keep it flying at least 80% of time...

    If it took Tejas I 30+ years, then we can't wait long time to replace Migs as we are in difficult position...

    So go with F/A-18 as it can be also stationed on aircraft carriers...

    When AMCA comes up, then you can use improved F-414 with thrust vectoring and stop building F/A-18 ...

    This is the best way for India to build aerospace infrastructure and take care of immediate security deficiencies...

    May God bless India in selecting a right path, at least now....

  5. I think the government has made up its mind. ACM Raha was in Sweden to fly the Grippen and it has been described as Generation 4+++. That should say a lot. Plus given the PAF / Faziya flies F-16, there is an inherent bias against that product, never mind Block 70, 80, 90 ..

    Also F16 is a design from the 1970s, Grippen is a much more modern airframe.

  6. Why go for a single engine aircraft when we have tejas mk1 & mk1-A, for those technologies that we need for mk1-A and our amca, we can license it or do ToT by giving Saab or Lockheeed a lump sum, these companies need money , it doesn't matter to them whether money comes by selling their aircraft OR by licencing their tech and being consultants to our aerospace industry. .. lspk

  7. I don't think US will offer F-35. Even if offered, India is unlikely to buy it due to its high cost and questions raised by its member nations about its ability. So its most likely going to be the JAS Gripen. Saab's offers seems great and its officials have been quoted saying that they are coming to India for partnership of next 100 years. It can be a good opportunity for India looking to improve its domestic defence industry.

  8. Is this a fucking joke? I thought the BJP would put a stop to this endless waste of money on foreign products.

    What the fuck did we spend all that money and time developing the Tejas if we're just going to buy a foreign plane that does exactly the same job?

    Arup Raha is a weak and disgraceful man, and so is any politico or bureaucrat that greenlights this act of shamelessly corrupt hara-kiri.

  9. In case of F35, cost will be an issue. Also, as flight international (must be nov 14 Edition) said, its performance is inferior to other aircrafts of 4th generation, but its capabilities are underestimated. This aircraft will start new tactics development for 5th gen aircrafts ( as 5th gen are more focused on processing huge amount of raw data, to increase awareness, as it is said that 90% of aircrafts shot down didn't knew they that they were being targeted). Probably its gripen vs F16

  10. RIP LCA. This is the beginning of the end for LCA.

  11. If the logic is that much needed technology required for Tejas will be easily available by establishing a production line for single engine fighter , then that is not correct. Any technology can be sourced from USA / European consortium through the route of govt to govt procurement .

    I see this as a move to kill Tejas.

    Why not invest in two manufacturing line for Tejas with a annual capacity of 20 each .

    Money required for two manufacturing line of Tejas will be much lower than one for either F-16 OR SAAB Gripen .

    IAF can never overcome their preference for foreign stuff to encourage indigenous manufacturing , they should learn from the Indian Navy.

  12. Indian governments don't know how to do business with these Defense MNCs. Asking them silly question such as "would you do ToT" is like asking car salesman- will this car work well in all seasons?" Answer is always "yes" but the fine print is different.
    If India wants to be hub of "make in India", it needs to give free run to these companies to make products in India the way they deem fit. Whether they have an Indian partner or not is minor issue if they bring the assembly line here. Adding Indian partner leads to no benefit to the nation or taxpayers. Asking for ToT leads to only empty promises.

  13. The headliner claim that IAF is kicking off contest is absurd, and directly countered by the article's own admission that the request just issued is not even a formal RFI, much less a RFP.

    So back to reality, this does not mean that IAF has decided they want to buy a foreign design single engine fighter, and are now deciding which kind, but rather that they are just seeking an understanding of the possibilities.

    That doesn't necessarily lead to adoption of foreign design single engine fighter, it can just as well give them a better basis to assess economics of larger Rafale purchase, as well as options for increased production of Tejas 1A, Mk. 2, etc. Without understanding what is possible in terms of bang for buck with foreign single engine designs, they have little grounding to assess the merits of different tranche sizes of Rafale vs. Tejas/Mk1A/Mk2.

    Quite frankly, there is just little value in adopting a new foreign single engine design ala F-16, Gripen NG, when India has already paid upfront for the customization of Rafale platform so future purchases there would be relatively cheaper, and Tejas has a straightforward path to (at least) come close to Gripen NG, for example. Why introduce new infrastructure and supply chain to overlap so much, and that would necessarily require the same sort of customization/integration that Rafale did? That simply negates the entire benefit of a light fighter, namely cost effectiveness.

    The article also can't manage to square up the inclusion of "Russia" within the scope of the "not-quite-RFI" for "single engine fighter", given that Russia does not produce such a plane. Which implies that either the scope/nature of RFI is not exactly as presented or Russia is in fact not a recipient/participant in the process, i.e. that the news/rumour is in one way or another false. Excluding Russia from process would most easily maintain the coherency of the claimed narrative, but the reliability of the rumour is impugned regardless, so how much stock should be placed in it to begin with?


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