The Future Of Indian Air Force – MMRCA

  The Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA)competition is nearing completion. Indian Air Chief Marshal PV Naikrecently said that the contract for supplying 126 MMRCA fighters to theIAF will be signed soon.

July, 2010, IAF completed itsevaluation report of the field trials conducted for six global fighterscontending for the MMRCA deal.

The evaluation report was thensubmitted to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) whereon it will be discussedby the Cabinet Committee on Security, after which the process ofawarding the contract would be initiated. Once the MoD finalises theshortlisted contenders, the complex process of negotiations will beginleading to the awarding of the deal to the winner.

India's $10.4 billion tender to acquire 126 fighter aircraft

India'splanned multi-billion dollar aircraft deal is the biggest contract eversince the 1990s. In 2001, IAF sent out its request for information(RFI) for the 126 fighters. After delays lasting almost 2 years beyondthe planned December 2005 issue date, the Ministry of Defence finallyannounced a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) on August 2007.

Sixglobal fighters – Lockheed Martin's F-16 Super Viper, Eurofighter'sTyphoon, Russian United Aircraft Corporation's Mikoyan MiG-35, France'sDassault Aviation's Rafale, Swedish SAAB's Gripen and Boeing's F/A-18Super Hornet – had submitted their bids in response to it.

Accordingto reports, the Indian government will be buying the first 18 aircraftdirectly from the manufacturer. The remaining fighters will be builtunder licence with a transfer of technology (ToT) by HindustanAeronautics Limited (HAL) based in Bangalore, India.

The delivery will start within 36 months of contract signing and will be completed 48 months later.

The competitors for the MMRCA deal

Whenthe RFIs were announced, six contenders bid for the order- the SaabGripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Mikoyan MiG-35 and theAmerican F-16IN and F/A-18IN. Out of these six, Russia’s Mikoyan andFrance’s Dassault companies are regular suppliers of aircraft to theIAF compared to the other four contenders.

The six contending fighters for the deal are the latest combat aircraft that are being developed or fielded today. 
Eurofighter Typhoon

TheEurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine canard-delta wing multiroleaircraft designed and built by a European consortium of threecompanies: Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, and EADS working through aholding company Eurofighter GmbH, which was formed in 1986. Theaircraft has high agility at supersonic speed and also has asupercruise capability that can fly at sustained supersonic speedsoffering high reliability.

Eurofighter is offering the Tranche-3Typhoon for the Indian requirement, equipped with the Captor-E (CAESAR)AESA radar. The aircraft also has a broad spectrum of operationaladvantages, such as excellent adaptability to severe weatherconditions, high mission effectiveness and survivability in threatsituations. EADS has even invited India to become a partner for theEurofighter Typhoon programme if the Typhoon wins the MMRCA contract,and will be given technological and development participation in futuretranches of the Typhoon.

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

TheBoeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a twin-engine 4.5 generationcarrier-based multirole fighter aircraft. The Super Hornet is a largerand more advanced variant of the F/A-18C/D Hornet.

The singleseat F/A-18/E and the two seat F/A-18/F flies greater ranges, withheavier payloads using a more powerful engine which provides greatersurvivability. Its powerful AN/APG-79 AESA radar has generatedsignificant interest in India. This radar could allow Super Hornets toplay a unique role in India’s fighter fleet due to their radar’sperformance and information sharing abilities.

Boeing hasproposed joint manufacturing of the fighters with Indian partners. Italso plans to offset the cost by setting up a $100 million maintenanceand training hub in Nagpur, Maharashtra. This is the first time thatthe Super Hornet has been offered for production in a foreign country.

Onthe availability of Super Hornet's APG-79 AESA radar, the US governmenthas given its approval but has stated that there would be somerestrictions and pre-conditions for the purchase of the aircraft.

Dassault Rafale

TheRafale is a French twin-engined delta-wing agile multi-role4.5th-generation fighter aircraft designed and built by DassaultAviation. The Rafale participated the MMRCA tender as a replacement forthe Mirage 2000-5.

The fighter aircraft is capable of carryingout a wide range of short and long-range missions that include groundand sea attack, air defence and high accuracy strike or nuclear strikedeterrence.

The Rafale has the advantage of being logisticallyand operationally similar to the Mirage 2000. The aircraft has adistinct advantage as it was used with great success during the KargilWar in 1999.

Since the IAF has already been equipped with theFrench Mirage 2000 fighters, the inclusion of Rafale would requirefewer changes in the existing infrastructure of the IAF, which in turnwill reduce cost.

The Transfer of Technology (ToT) is againsmooth with no end user restrictions. The French government has alreadycleared full technology transfer of the Rafale to India, including thatof the RBE2-AA AESA radar, which will be integrated with the fighter by2010, and has also cleared the transfer of
source codes.

Initiallyit was reported that Rafale was declared out of the race after it didnot meet India’s technical evaluation criteria. The recommendation wasmade by the Technical Evaluation Committee, as Dassault did not provideinformation on some equipment and add-ons that the IAF wanted in theaircraft. But later on, at a meeting of the Defence Procurement Board,the fighter aircraft was allowed to re-enter the race.

Lockheed Martin F-16 Super Viper

TheF-16IN Super Viper is a unique new fighter sharing a heritage with theworld's only fifth generation fighters – the F-35 Lightning II JointStrike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor. The Super Viper has the mostadvanced technologies and capabilities which include AN/APG-80 AESAradar, Net-Centric Warfare capability, an infrared search and track(IRST) system, advanced survivability features, enhanced high-thrustengines and proven combat and operational effectiveness.

Indiainitially sent the RFI for the F-16C/D Block 52+ configurationaircraft. But, Lockheed Martin proposed the customised F-16IN for theMMRCA competition. If F-16IN wins the contract, then Lockheed Martinwill also offer to sell the F-35 lightning aircraft in future asreplacements.

But the Indian government and IAF have neverseemed very keen on buying the F-16s as the Pakistan Air Force alreadyoperates the same warplane. The capabilities of the F-16s also appearto be similar to that of the Mirage 2000s operated by the IAF.

SAAB Gripen IN

The SAAB Gripen is a lightweight single engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company SAAB.

GripenIN (a version of the Gripen NG- Next Generation) is the mosttechnologically advanced fighter and is equipped with futuristicwarfare technologies developed specifically for India. The Gripen NGhas increased fuel capacity, more powerful powerplant, higher payload,upgraded avionics and other improvements.

The fighter aircrafthas a powerful and proven GE’s F414G engine, AESA radar, advancedcommunication system, advanced electronic warfare, tactical data link,and advanced weapons capacity. Its other strengths include the abilityoperate from roads instead of runways if necessary and also reasonablepurchase cost.

SAAB, if wins the bid, is willing to form a jointventure with Indian aerospace industry with the aim to develop the nextgeneration of fighters and also provide access to all levels oftechnology.

Mikoyan MiG-35

TheMikoyan MiG-35 (Fulcrum-F) is a further development of the MiG-29M/M2and MiG-29K/KUB. The IAF already operates MiG-29s, and the Navy hasordered MiG-29K/KUBs for its INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant-classaircraft carriers.

The single seat version is designated MiG-35and the two-seat version is MiG-35D. The fighter has vastly improvedavionics and weapon systems, notably the new Phazotron Zhuk-AE AESAradar, the RD-33MK engines and the newly designed Optical LocatorSystem (OLS).

The IAF already has maintenance facilities for theMiG-29. Therefore, it will be very much easier to buy the Russian-madeaircraft with a minimum of expenditure on infrastructure. Also Russiais willing to give full ToT, which is an added advantage. Russia hasprovided support for equipments in the past also during internationalsanctions.


Allsix contenders are equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and AESA(Active Electronically Scanned Array) airborne radar with only marginaldifferences in performance. There is also little difference in theirarmament carrying capacity and, where needed, suchchanges/modifications should be possible.

The Dassault Rafale,the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet are alltwin-engine fighters in the 25-30 tonne class. All of them arereportedly very expensive. The MiG-35, also a twin-engined aircraft,was first unveiled at Aero India Show-2007 at Bangalore, India. Itsofficial price is still unknown but will preferably be lower than theother expensive bidders. The other two competitors, F-16IN and GripenIN are relatively lightweight fighters but can carry a weapon load ofaround 8000 kg. Both are highly manoeuvrable multirole fighters.


Thefinal chapter on the 'mother of all deals' – the MMRCA competition –will be written soon and major issues like access to technology,technology transfer, reliable spares and maintenance support throughoutthe projected life of the aircraft, etc will play key role in thedecision making. There are media reports that political factor islikely to influence the choice of the MMRCA other than the performanceand cost.

The contract is likely to be wrapped up sometime next year, and the MMRCA is expected to join the IAF fleet in early 2017.

Currently,the strength of the IAF is 34 squadrons (over 640 aircraft). By 2022,the IAF fighters’ fleet would comprise of the Sukhois, indigenous LightCombat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas', MMRCA, indigenous Medium Combat Aircraftand fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) that India is developingjointly with the Russians.

Finally, whatever be the result ofthis on-going competition, the inclusion of these MMRCA will definitelyform a strong backbone for the Indian Air Force.

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