‘114 Make In India Jet Much More Complicated Than MMRCA’

5 of 8 jets looking to compete for the 114 Made in India Fighter program

India’s quest to buy and locally build 114 new fighter aircraft will be “much more complicated” than the country’s notoriously doomed earlier effort for 126 fighters. In some straight talk from India’s only military airframer, the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), its chairman R. Madhavan has told Livefist that it is going to be very difficult (for the Indian Air Force) to formulate requirements that cater for deeply disparate aircraft types that have lined up to compete.

For a while now, India’s proposed program to choose a foreign fighter and build it in country through a Strategic Partnership, has reminded observers of the aborted Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) procurement program, which consumed years and millions, but didn’t result in a decision to buy and build 126 fighters. Instead, the collapsed deal spawned a separate effort that resulted in India settling for a much smaller quantity — 36 — of the winning aircraft, France’s Rafale.

The new program is following a similar path in many ways. Like with the M-MRCA, the new program seeks to buy a few jets off the shelf from the winning company, and then build over 100 of the rest in India at a new private sector facility. Like with the M-MRCA, the new effort is also seeing a line-up of deeply different jets, from heavy twin-engine fighters, to medium jets to light single-engine fighters.

Speaking to Livefist, HAL chairman R. Madhavan said, “The Indian Air Force will now have to make a RFI/RFQ (request for information/quotation) which meets both single and twin engine varieties. It will be very difficult to formulate an SQR (staff qualitative requirement) which covers both. So we have to wait and see how the IAF plays it, how they want their aircraft to be defined. Based on that, we will submit our quote.

While the Made in India fighter program is intended to create aerospace capacity in India’s private sector, HAL already has potential skin in the game. In 2018, HAL unveiled a three-way partnership with Boeing and Mahindra Aerospace to support Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet pitch in the contest. Since then, Boeing has decided to also make available the new F-15EX depending on how the Indian Air Force defines its requirements.

Boeing now has both the F/A-18 as well as the F-15, which even the US Govt is buying. So Boeing has two offers in the 114 fighter jet program. Other than that, MiG-35, Su-35, Gripen, Rafale are also there. So it’s still a very open contest,” Madhavan said.

Asked specifically if the proposition reminded him of the doomed M-MRCA, Madhavan said, “It’s going to be much more complicated than the MMRCA. With the F-15 and Su-35, which are in a much higher weight category compared to the others. Their armament carrying capabilities change, maneouverability changes. It’s going to be difficult to cover both varieties with one SQR.”

While procurement circles would generally agree, the fact that the HAL chief has decided to speak out on the issue is significant, especially since the IAF is HAL’s principal customer. Also, given the current 114 fighter program replaced an short-lived quest for a single-engine fighter, and you have a situation where a protagonist in the proceedings has fired directly at how the program is configured.

Despite warning signs, the M-MRCA had seemed like a highly structured selection process that would defeat the obvious challenges of evaluating totally disparate fighter types. Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Naik had even openly suggested patenting the M-MRCA evaluation process to license it to other countries looking to buy jets. In the end, the contest stalled, crashed and burned, was hauled over the coals by India’s national auditor, and resulted in India signing up for 36 of the winning jet, the Rafale, in 2016, over a decade after the M-MRCA program began.

The first IAF Rafale jets are expected to arrive in India next month, with deliveries to progress every few months.

Amidst border tensions with China, there has been heightened interest within the Indian establishment over speeding up critical procurements. And while there had been a quibble between India’s new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the IAF chief over whether the 114 fighter program would go through amidst budgetary pressures and a stress on self-reliance, the HAL chairman was categorical in his view that the program, while delayed, would definitely go through.

The Chief of Air Staff was categorical that we need these 114 fighters. It will not be junked, the only problem is timelines. In the present financial situation, it may not happen immediately,” Madhavan said.

While the Covid19 pandemic had muddied waters in terms of armement procurement priorities and timelines, border tensions with China have brought those back front and center, possibly offsetting potential delays in programs moving forward.

Livefist has detailed the contours of bids by several of the contenders, including Boeing’s F/A-18 pitch, Saab’s Gripen pitch and Lockheed-Martin’s pitch of the F-16 variant that the company markets as the F-21 for the Indian contest.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Moscow last week amidst a border escalation between India and China following an incident in the Galwan Valley that left several troops on both sides dead. In Moscow, he is understood to have obtained assurances on speedy delivery of India’s S-400 Triumf air defence systems by next year, and to clear decks for an anticipated order for 12 additional Su-30 MKI jets (which HAL will license build at its line in Nashik) and 21 MiG-29s built from old airframe shells, but brought up to upgraded standards. Livefist had detailed those programs here.

Watch Livefist’s full interview with HAL chairman R. Madhavan here, and do consider subscribing to Livefist’s YouTube channel here.

6 thoughts on “‘114 Make In India Jet Much More Complicated Than MMRCA’”

  1. Stuff & Nonsense from HAL. The 114 Fighter Aircraft will be just the Rafale MMRCA IMPORTED in successive tranches of 36-40 aircraft. It’s not feasible to manufacture 4thGen aircraft under license. SU30MKI cost 2.5times more to make under license. Make LCA/MWF now & maybe in future 5/6 Gen AMCA at least 20 years later

  2. I think India is the only country in the world to import foreign jets despite having developed a light and medium 4.5 gen fighter of its own. Its the height of ridiculousness.

    Also, when we’re already purchasing 3 squadrons of MiG-29s and Su-30s, is this deal even necessary at all ?

    Will Sweden import F-15s or F-16s when it has Gripens ? No. Will South Korea import Gripens or Typhoons when it has the KAI T-50 ? No.

    This happens only in India. Also, once this phenomenon of private players assembling foreign fighters under license starts, India will perpetually be dependent on foreign jets. That’s because the private sector lobby will force the government to junk any indigenous development and hand over contracts for themselves.

  3. SuchindranathAiyerS

    The most effective aircraft for India’s defense requirements at reasonable cost would be

    40 Squadrons of Grippen E (Sweden) for interdiction, defense and close ground support, which is the most efficient and effective, maneuverable, future proof single seater Light Combat Aircraft in the World apart from being the least expensive and lends itself to excellent strategic, tactical and operational deployment due to its flexibility, minimal technical support requirements, excellent communication and joint operational capability enabling wide dispersal and instant swarming and rapid turn around times for rearming, engine change, refueling etc as well as proven capability to deal with all kinds of climatic conditions and terrain.

    PLUS

    20 Squadrons of SU-57 (Two seater Stealth Medium Combat Aircraft: which was initially being jointly developed with India by Russia) to carry out deep penetration, reconnaissance, and heavy weapons delivery while being able to defend itself effectively when deep into enemy air space ;

    PLUS

    1 Squadron of TU 160M (Russia) and orders for 1 Squadron of PAK DA (Russian Stealth Bomber under advanced development) for strategic bombing missions such as taking out China’s three gorges dam, Peking and Shanghai and returning home to tell the tale.

    However, India is attempting to buy weapons as an extension of Modi’s “Multi Alignment” Bribe Diplomacy from all UN Security Council Members and empty pride in non existent indigenous technological and design capability with scant regard for Military Efficiency, Effectiveness and affordability. Completely divorced from any real situation assessment as is the case with ALL Modiform laws and policies which are nothing but the last seventy years rehashed, tweaked, rebranded and relaunched. So Boeing may get a look in as part of Modi’s larger Nehruvian Gandhistry of non aligned “multi appeasement”

    1. you are delusional… filling further variety of fighters just because owl gunddy and his imported mother should be happy??
      why would we buy gripen when we have the lca
      why would be buy su57 when we want the amca
      why TU bombers when you cannot bomb enemy with air defence in this age, are you from the 50s? we use tactical missliles and stand off weapons now.
      all you know is to attack modi.. you know im no modi fan but you have made us neutral people lean towards bjp because you congressi people are so rotted within.. with bribery… and you are so full of hate towards the religion of this land… aah you pathetic man, shame on you

  4. My first question is why IAF make requirement for available fighters? IAF make requirement based on what they need and select fighter based on that, what’s the challenge there?

    In my opinion, the western fighter is better than Russian roles, they are good at manufacturing and quality, Even though the cost is slightly higher than Russian ones, It will made up for it by just considering availability and reliability. Russia invested more on defense systems, they are good at it(like S400) but for the offensive platform, western jets are better.

    For MMRCA, I think we should go for say 72 F21 and 36 F35s. The US/LM has tremendous experience making fighter jets. They can establish much better manufacturing facility in India than any Russian company. Buying stuff like SU 57, )which even Russian airforce does not have any confidence to buy more of them) is stupid idea. F35 can be directly brought, and now i think US will agree for it if we sign for single big contract for 108 jets.

    1. I agree with you. I think western fighters are better than Russians and now Russians armaments may have Chinese electronics. India should buy F-16V and F-15EX before buying F-35s. F-16V has many improvements from F-22 and F-35. So F-16V should be lot better than F-16C/D.

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