Home arrow Archives arrow Defence Notes arrow Defence Notes 2009 arrow Stage Set For Evaluation:MOTHER OF ALL DEFENCE DEALS, by Radhakrishna Rao, 10 August 2009
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Stage Set For Evaluation:MOTHER OF ALL DEFENCE DEALS, by Radhakrishna Rao, 10 August 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 10 August 2009

Stage Set For Evaluation


By Radhakrishna Rao

The stage is being set for kick-starting the  exciting flight evaluation trials of the six competing medium multi role combat aircraft (MMRCA) in the race for the Indian defence contract for the supply of 126  aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF).  These will form part of the bulwark of the frontline fighter fleet alongwith the formidable Russian origin Su-30MKI combat aircraft and the fourth generation, home grown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas now undergoing qualification trials as a prelude to obtaining initial operational clearance (IOC). The contract is expected to be worth between US$10-billion and US$12-billion depending upon the features and characteristics of the aircraft alongwith its weapons suite carrying capability. ”It is the biggest fighter aircraft deal since 1990s” says Mark Kronenberg, who heads Boeing’s business in the Asia Pacific region.

And sometime next month, the skies of Bangalore, which also happens to be the country’s aeronautical nerve centre, will witness the roar and thunder of the flying machines   displaying their awesome manoeuvers and breathtaking skills as part of the “dog fight” to win what has been described as the “mother of all defence deals”. Interestingly, this is also reckoned to be India’s largest single defence contract to date.

In order to evaluate these six contending fighter planes from all possible angles, a multi disciplinary team made up of experts drawn from ASTE (Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment) of IAF, CENILAC (Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification) of the state owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian aeronautical major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has been set up. Apart from Bangalore, all the six aircraft will be subjected to trials in two other locations featuring varying climatic and environmental conditions .In Bangalore, the aircraft will be evaluated for its performance, systems and humidity. And over the Thar desert stretches of Jaisalmer in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, these metal birds will undergo hot weather and weapons trials. Thereafter, they will be flight tested under high altitude and cold weather conditions of Leh in Ladakh. “We need to wait for the field trials to be over before any conclusion can be drawn,” quipped an IAF official.

Meanwhile, all the six high profile bidders—Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16IN, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, Mikoyan Mig-35—are  working overtime to give their best performance  during the Indian field trials. During the flight trials in India, the performance of the aircraft in various stages including their take off and landing, their maneuvering capability as well as their operational efficiency under hot weather and cold weather conditions will be thoroughly evaluated. Also under scanner will be their maintainability, mission support equipment, combat efficiency and life cycle costs.

Once the trials in the Indian locations are over, the aircraft will be ready for carrying out actual firing trials which could take place either in the country where the aircraft is manufactured or in a country suggested by the vendor .All the trials as a prelude to the final selection of the aircraft are expected to be completed by the first half of 2010.

India’s no nonsense Defence Minister, A.K.Antony, known for his impeccable personal integrity, has  made it plain that the aircraft that would be selected finally should meet all the requirements of the IAF. He has also made it plain that there should not be an impropriety or irregularity in the selection procedure. In fact, in 2007 December he had ordered the cancellation of the tender for the acquisition of 197 light utility helicopters after Eurocopter was close to bagging the order on the ground that “the flight evaluation procedure was dnot as per the norms”. As such, this time around Antony has stressed on fair and transparent selection process so that the country would be able to realize the best value for money. A stickler to rules, Antony has hinted at strong and ruthless action against any act of corruption, wrong doing and irregularity in defence deals. Further, he has delivered a stern warning to defence vendors and contractors against resorting to “bribes and payoffs” to win Indian defence contracts. As it is, many high ticket Indian deals had gained notoriety on account of the alleged payment of “hush money” and “pay offs”.

Rapid depletion of the combat aircraft squadron owing to the phasing out of the Soviet era Mig-range of fighter aircraft along with the inordinate delay in the qualification of the Tejas aircraft nudged IAF to go in for MMRCA with a view to sustaining its fighting edge.IAF is now believed to have just 32 squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons .Even so the new IAF chief,  P.V. Naik, has expressed the optimism that IAF would have 45 squadrons by 2020-25 and in the process touch its optimum force  levels.

In fact, the need for rejuvenating the IAF’s fighter fleet was projected in early 1990s in the context of the plan to phase out the aging Mig-21, Mig-23 and Mig-27 constituting the mainstay of IAF’s frontline fighting structure. But the only positive fall out of  this far from happy scenario was the rapid acquisition of an increasing number of Russian made multi role combat aircraft Su-30 MKI .IAF considers it to be quite formidable fighting machine with versatile capabilties. Meanwhile, IAF has ordered an additional 40 Su-3o MKIs from Russia. As things stand now, IAF expects to have a total of 230 Su-30 MKIs in its inventory of fighter aircraft.

As it is, the vendor of the aircraft finally selected by the Indian defence ministry will be required to undertake 50% offset obligation in India. Against this backdrop  some of the vendors in the competition have already forged  alliance with Indian industrial outfits and software and IT service providers for the joint development, co production, technology transfer as well as sourcing of components and services. Significantly, the economic offset for the MMRCA deal was set at 50% of the total value of the contract under 2006 defence procurement rules. As pointed out by the Indian defence ministry, the offset   provision will help expose the Indian industry to many new and emerging technologies and innovative manufacturing techniques so that their expertise level could be scaled up to the best in the world.

On another front the RFP (request for proposal)  for the contract has a provision whereby India can exercise the option of acquiring  another lot of 63 aircraft in future without any cost escalation. But then as stated by IAF chief Naik, “the acquisition of more aircraft would be assessed at an appropriate time based on our experience and requirements”. It is the fond hope of IAF that the first selected aircraft will reach India by 2013-14 by taking into account the fact that the manufacturer could initiate the supply of aircraft within three years of signing the contract.

The first batch of 18 aircraft will be delivered to India   in flyway condition while the remaining 118 will be produced by the Bangalore based HAL under technology transfer. The aircraft is expected to have a life cycle of 40 years and will be designed to carry out defence, ground attack and reconnaissance operations in addition to possessing the capability for mid air refueling. Among the factors that IAF is likely to consider while finalizing the  aircraft type include the scope of modernization, life cycle costs, technology transfer , reliability of spares supply, training, infrastructure, its weapons suites and eletronics as well as leveraging the geopolitical advantages of the deal. Also under considerations will be operational issues like range, interoperability and super-cruising ability. In the ultimate analysis, which aircraft will grab the record Indian defence order, no one is in a position to hazard a guess at this point of time.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT