The MMRCA hustle!

With the kind of stakes involved (upto $16 billion) in India’s medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition, it isn’t remotely surprising that there are so many different stories wafting around defence circles in the last few days. From shock eliminations to uncomfortable queries about “full platform demonstrability” to whispers about South Block’s corporate shakedowns from six of the world’s biggest best known military aircraft makers.

The official update from the mandarins at Vayu Bhawan is that the technical evaluation of bids was completed in December and the report has been forwarded to the Defence Ministry without any eliminations. No eliminations have apparently been recommended in the report. In the second-half of April, flight evaluations will commence and go through hot weather trials and cold weather trials towards the end of 2009. This is as it stands on paper. And everyone knows that in a big defence buy, the stuff on paper amounts to zip. You don’t enunciate strategic or political considerations on paper in a tech-eval report.

It began with a news report about the Saab Gripen being eliminated in the tech-eval downselect. It turns out this isn’t the case, and the company has been notified of flight evaluation schedules. There’s another rumour out that the Dassault Rafale has been unconditionally booted from the competition for being just too damned expensive. A third rumour talks of how the IAF has recommended the immediate rejection of the EADS Typhoon because its air-to-ground capabilities are not promising as yet. A fourth scenario, and one shared with me by a friend on the beat, is that the MMRCA contract has already been jacked up to 200 aircraft — and this will include a heavy-light mix of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets and Saab Gripens. Yet another says that there really only are three aircraft in the fray — the Super Hornet, the Lockheed Martin F-16IN and the UAV MiG-35, but that the single-engined contender (the F-16IN) stands to win. We’ll wait this one out, huh?

29 thoughts on “The MMRCA hustle!”

  1. Bill the Butcher.
    Why India will buy the F-16 ?

    Bill the butcher is a former IAF pilot and posted these comments on his blog.

    September 2007

    There is a hoary old tradition in Indian government circles. Except in those cases where recruitment is on the basis of national level or state level competitive examinations, there is almost every time a little comedy played out. Advertisements are posted in the papers, applicants short-listed, called for interview, and all the time everyone in the swing knows who’s going to be selected ultimately. The entire interview process is, basically, eyewash. And the “victorious” candidate is never the best. Well, of course he isn’t. If he was, there would have been no need to rig the interview in the first place.
    Nowadays that tradition is about to step out of government appointments and into the military sphere.
    It’s been years since the Indian Air Force (IAF) – for whom I used to work till eleven months ago – expressed the need for a multi-purpose fighter (Multi Role Combat Aircraft, MRCA, as they call it). Whether they actually need such a fighter is a different issue; right now, though, they are basically dependent on variants of the 1960s vintage MiG 21, which is in the process of being upgraded so it can hang on for a few more years. The MiG 21 was supposed to be replaced a long time ago by the Indian indigenous fighter, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. But the LCA is so far behind schedule that it’s yet to even begin production, and it’s so far from Indian that even its engine has to be imported. The Indian Kaveri engine that was supposed to power it shows no signs of ever being made. Most damning of all, the IAF itself has obviously lost all interest in the LCA; it had been arm-twisted by the government into placing a farcical order for twenty aircraft, none of which is anywhere near being made yet, but in the meantime needed a real replacement. Meanwhile its real strength has dropped to some 29 squadrons, allegedly insufficient for it to perform its duties. That is, if you agree that it needs any new planes at all – which is a point I shall get back to in a moment.
    So the Indian government short-listed six aircraft manufacturers for the contract to supply 126 combat aircraft: Dassault Aviation of France for the Rafale, RAC MiG Corporation of Russia for the MiG 35, Eurofighter GmbH for the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab of Sweden for the JAS39C Gripen, and …very significantly … Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the F 16 Block 60 and F/A 18 Hornet respectively (both US). The cost of this contract is – hold your breath – ten billion dollars.
    I wonder how many schools and hospitals that could create, how much damage to the environment could be reversed?
    I might as well say right now that in my opinion at least three of these six – Dassault, Saab, and the Eurofighter consortium – have been included just to make up numbers. No one’s even talking seriously about any of them. So we come down basically to the MiG 35 and the two American aircraft. And things get interesting at this point.
    Remember this – the buying of a fighter doesn’t mean just the buying of the aircraft itself. It means the need to set up an entire infrastructure and support system, for repair, servicing, even for refuelling and so on. In order to economise, you know, nations try and make their aircraft (and other equipment) as far as possible compatible with the same set of tools and equipment. Just as you’d probably prefer to buy a car your local garage could service rather than something exotic nobody in your town had ever seen before. Get my point?
    OK. So, since virtually our entire air force inventory is of Russian and French origin, all systems are configured for servicing Russian and French aircraft. Now you’d think that common sense would dictate that you stick to those manufacturers whose equipment you’re already using, whose aircraft are equipping your squadrons, whose tools you’ve stockpiled, right?
    Right. If you have sense, that is.
    Unfortunately, that’s precisely the sort of thing you can’t depend on in India.
    And that’s why the two American aircraft are included in the list. Hell – you’d even have to get a new set of spanners to service the damned things.
    And now let me make my prediction: the Indian government has already decided to select the Lockheed Martin F 16. All the rigmarole over trials and selection procedures are a gigantic farce.
    Would you like to know how I arrived at that conclusion?
    First. Our air force doesn’t really need any more planes of this type. We already have two highly capable multi-role combat aircraft, Sukhoi’s Su 30 MKI and Dassault’s Mirage 2000. We don’t need any more planes of this type to replace retiring aircraft simply because there is never going to be a big war again where they can be used. Wars – even bush-league wars – are incredibly draining on resources, as the US is discovering in Afghanistan and Iraq. The capitalist class that rules India these days isn’t involved in defence production enough to make any serious money out of it. So that class has no interest in going to war. Even a direct attack on India, if it ever came, isn’t going to provoke an all out war. All there might be is a lot of posturing and sabre-rattling, but, depend on it, no fighting (for example, Operation Parakram of 2001-02).
    If there is a war at all, it’ll be a minor affair of strictly limited geographical area, where the Sukhois and Mirages might not even have to be used. If they are used, they would be more than good enough to do the job required.
    So, since there is no risk of ever going to war again, there is no risk in buying equipment that can’t be digested and absorbed easily, that will require a separate system for maintenance, that might turn out to be unusable junk in the long term. You get what I’m talking about. The capabilities of the aircraft selected don’t matter at all, since it is never, ever, going to be used anyway.
    Second. If at all we need aircraft, what we need are dedicated counterinsurgency (COIN) planes – slow flying, heavily armed and armoured aircraft of an entirely different type from the MRCA our air force is determined to procure (examples are the A10 Warthog or the Sukhoi Su 25). However, COIN planes are relatively cheap and where there is less money being thrown around there’s less chance that some of it might find its way into someone’s pocket. So, although back in 1999 (during the Kargil “war” against Pakistani troops) everyone was groaning about the dearth of COIN planes in the IAF’s inventory, nobody has mentioned them again afterwards.
    Third. This government is, as I said, ruled by the capitalist class. No Indian government these days is its own master, hasn’t been for a decade and a half. Earlier it used to be the Ambani family that used to run India – and these days it’s Ratan Tata. Tata is openly pro-American and a strong supporter of the Nuclear Deal. And the Americans know very well how much influence he wields. So, when there was an air show in India earlier this year, Aero India 2007, they made sure that he got joyrides in both planes – and came down babbling about how he enjoyed the rides.
    Fourth. The higher reaches of the military are absolutely rotten through with corruption and are completely susceptible to government pressure (in any case it’s only politically “reliable” officers who get to the top positions). So whatever is right for the Air Force isn’t necessarily what it will say is right for it. There’s no point saying that “this is what the IAF says is right.” I recall watching (in 2004) an American air force delegation given a free hand to tour parts of the Indian Air Force regional command headquarters here. They were allowed to photograph whatever they wanted and go wherever they wanted – even to areas out of bounds to Indian airmen without special clearance.
    Fifth. If our current government has a foreign policy at all, it can be summed up in one sentence: suck up to the Americans at all costs. This is more than obvious at every stage. The government no longer even makes any serious attempt to deny it. To make the Americans happy, of course, any and all means are OK. Not so Russia or France – they are only our friends, not the Masters of the Universe (and France under Sarkozy is showing signs of backsliding, too).
    Sixth. The Indian middle class couldn’t care less about what happens to its tax money (insofar as it pays any) so long as it can buy its LCD televisions and snazzed up cars. The Indian Middle Class is a topic in itself. I could go on and on…
    So, the imperatives of the situation are: no big war; a lot of money going around; capitalist backing; government support; and personal pro-Americanism.
    There is no reason the American planes would even be on the short-list unless they were to be chosen, for the reasons I outlined above. So, the IAF is going to select either the F 16 or the F 18.
    Now, I believe we can narrow it down further. It’s going to be the F 16.
    Firstly, unlike the F 18, production of the F 16 is winding down (it is no longer in production for the USAF) and jobs might be lost without the Indian order. Just as India, to please Britain, bought Westland helicopters in the late seventies so that that company got a new lease of life. The Westlands were such junk they never even got into proper service and were all scrapped. But who cared so long as India made Maggie Thatcher happy. Making Bush happy is all this government cares about.
    Then, Boeing can be “compensated” by major orders for commercial aircraft, so even if it doesn’t get the F 18 order, everyone stays happy.
    Naturally, there is one more “advantage” to buying American aircraft. If the Americans – as they have many times before – impose sanctions to twist India’s arm, there will be an excellent argument in favour of giving in to American demands – “or else our equipment would be useless.”
    India’s defence minister, AK Anthony (a very short man who had a police officer dismissed for referring to him as “shorty” during a conversation on police radio) said the deal will be completely transparent. Right. Everyone knows how transparent it will be, with the papers and the television channels paid to support one point of view and misinformation carefully fostered. Already the right wing media refers to the MiG 21 as “flying coffins” and deliberately confuses it with all MiGs. I can assure you that you’ll find a lot of anti-MiG articles in the newspapers in coming days.
    You understand that sucking up to America is all these people care about. Even if American bombs were to be raining down on Delhi, they would still be trying to suck up to Washington.
    This is why any and all invaders were able to rule this country as and when they wished

  2. How come this post is dated Jan 18, Sunday, 12.41 pm, and is appearing today on Jan 19, sometime in the evening? This will mislead us.

    The info about the 3 actually being in the fray and the one to win is incorrect, Shiv. Just because you are getting a ride in Aero India in F-16, doesn’t mean it is going to win.

  3. Well face it we all know that grippen aint going to make it to top coz if so bye bye lca ,which is supposed to be like or closer to grippen.

    This is my first post in this blog and i am realy delighted to know abt this blog.I also request u to make a forum on the basis of this blog so that we can share our view in a co-ordinate manner.

  4. We all know who the winner is
    Its MiG 35.
    It created waves of fans when it came in under three hours from Moscow to Banglore with three mid air refuels.

    Nothing can match to it.

    I’d say the Airforce stop wasting its time with the remaining and order the 200 aircraft

  5. Who is that beat idiot who seems to have told you about the order going up to 200, Shiv?

    Fools know nothing. Only one person could’ve confirmed this and also done a page 1 on this, and you know who, Shiv!

  6. Flight trials at the end of 2009. Great. No seriously great going MOD. Its not like we have an imminent serious threat from a rogue nation on our north western border who we have been fighting since we came into existence. Nope. Just take your time, let the foreign lobbyists fill your pockets. No hurry. Oh, and don’t even bother about those 1.5billion squint eyed buggers up north. Its not like they are building a huge fleet of nuclear subs or are in the final stages of developing their indigenous stealth fighter. No sir. They’re just cooking great food and being communist.
    So yeah, take it easy. Push back the acquisition date as far as you can. In fact why not induct the F-16 on its 50th birthday. Quite poetic really.


  7. @ “Bill the butcher” article

    Excellent read. His predictions may not be true but whatever he said about our dumb nouveau-riche middle class, our sick,sick fox news-esque media and our haemorrhage inducing upper governmental strata is bang on!

    Ps: Oh yeah i hate that short prick Anthony. Just look at him! His lack of any form of articulation just pisses me off. And dont even get me started on Pranab M. Grrr…. im pissed, im gonna go murder a kitten or something.

  8. Its UAC Mig-35 dost, and not UAV Mig-35 as it appears in your article. Its a typos many would love to jump at!

    Anyway, lots of insight and new revelations (possibilities) being thrown up! The competition is well and truly hotting up it seems. The scariest of all the possibilities is the one of F-16 winning the contract. It simply doesn’t go down well with me. F-16, a plane which simply doesn’t feature in the parent country’s future plans anymore.

    And that not even considering the considering the difficulty in getting a ToT from the americans.

  9. left wing nut job

    That long post by a supposed ex-IAF guy is nothing but politically motivated rantings with a dash of biased social commentary.

    Nothing of worth.

  10. left wing nut job

    If the F-16IN does win, it will be because the F-16 would lead to the F-35. LM had made a pitch a year or so ago that explicitly stated that ordering the F-16 would put the IAF in line for the F-35.

    Wait for AI09 for more info on this.

  11. Boy oh boy, this Bill the Butcher who claims to be ex-IAF (com, non-com, a civilian fart or an impersonator) does not clarify the following:
    1) Is he aware that the MiG-21bis has already been upgraded to the Bison standard? I ask this because he says the MiG-21 is in the process of being upgraded.
    2) Is he aware how many types of Westland-built helicopters have been acquired to date by Indian military operators? Is he referring to the Sea King Mk42s, Mk42As, Mk42Bs and Mk42Cs as 'junk' or is he referring to the WG-30s that were acquired (not in the late 1970s) in the early 1980s for Pawan Hans and ONGC under a grant-in-aid package?
    3) If this guy is so cocksure that the F-16 has been pre-selected, why does he not highlight at all the fact that the F-16 is being jointly marketed by both Lockheed Martin & Israel Aerospace Industries?

  12. What bullshit is this ? .. how can you claim that the F-16IN is front runner knowing that the F-16 is NO WAY COMPATABLE WITH IAF PROBE AND DROGUE IFR ????? .. I AM SURPRISED THAT THIS WAS NOT NOTICED IN THIS ARTICLE

  13. Thisarticle is from a blog which belongs for a former IAF pilot that too in Sept 2007. He is free to write or express his opinion .
    This has been pasted on live fist to put some limelight on what some of the IAF people think about the MRCA acquisitions.Remmember this article has been copied and pasted .Bill the Butcher is innocent.

  14. @ “Bill the butcher” article

    Whoever this guy is; I am sure he can’t find his a$$ with this both hands. What a cocky piece of false information.

  15. Don’t give too much credence to Bill “the Butcher”. The guy was no pilot… he was a dentist in the IAF, and doesn’t know the first thing about aeroplanes. Has a major chip on his shoulder about gawd knows what, and thinks every bad thing in the world is a capitalist conspiracy. Hell, he even made a long post about flying boats, and how they were “finished off” by the evil capitalists to favour “obviously inferior” land based aircraft.

    Even after that, how can someone take this whacko seriously?

  16. If IAF decides to go in for the F-16, they would be making a grave mistake. There can be no two minds about this. It would be wastage of public money, our money. And we should ask our Govt. as to why our hard earned money being spent on buying an aircraft which has:

    1.Nothing in common with our existing logistical infrastructure
    2.Require colossal new investment in maintenance grid
    3.Offers no extraordinary advantages over other option
    4.Has reached the end of its production cycle, hence would be difficult to maintain and upgrade in future

    AND ALL THIS JUST FOR VAGUE PROMISES FOR JSF IN FUTURE, which would require fresh bulti billion dollar investment?

    GOD only knows what will happen if US imposes another sanction in future. We will lose ability to maintain 30% of our fighter fleet. It would not be the same as a few Navy Sea Kings being unoperational, as during the post SHAKTI TESTS round of sanctions. With Obama insisting on mediating on Kashmir and showing signs of renewal of policy of bracketing India with Pakistan, that day may come sooner than later.

    And the ‘Bill the Butcher’ is right about one thing, Vested interests are out in force to malign the MIGs. Media looks at old MiG 21 and idiotically says something like “all MiGs are bad…”. And this kind of attitude is being egged on by US awed NRIs (who generally visit these blogs), who suddenly want an all American arsenal for Indian Armed Forces.

    The only sane choice was the MIG 35 & Mirage 2000 because of existing maintenece lines. Since the latter is no more on offer, MiG-35 is the way to go. Its a modern and capable machine, which can seamlessly blend into our existing fleet. It is also relatively inexpensive. Tomorrow if a war with Pak comes, it will be one aircraft you can take confidently to battle, without worrying about coming US sanctions. What else do you want?

  17. @ madhusudan 11:18
    LM/USA has proposed to install a nose -mounted probe for the F-16IN.
    The boom refueling is also a possibilty considering the fact (as mentioned by Livefist) that IAF is inclined towards placing orders for A330 MRTT….so by the time the 1st MMRCA arrives, the A330 MRTT should also arrive( iff it is selected within this year).

  18. Prasunji @ 4:12
    I think he is referring to those Seakings which came along with Vikrant.

    and F-16 is not being jointly marketed by LM and IAI i.e, they are not F-16I Soufa.
    LM has proposed a Block 70 version as F-16IN.

  19. left wing nut job

    LOL at Mig-35 lovers! It is a POS paper airplane that would need IAF money to finish development. FYI, the plane that’s marked Mig-35 is actually a repainted SMT with hardly any of the touted capabilities of the Mig-35. For crap’s sake, Russia doesn’t even have a flying AESA FCS, only promises of this and promises of that and a good bit of arm-twisting and thuggery in between.

    BTW, how’s the much touted but awfully silent MTA joint venture working out? Other than models at Aero India, what else has been done in that program?

  20. The only sane choice was the MIG 35 & Mirage 2000 because of existing maintenece lines. Since the latter is no more on offer, MiG-35 is the way to go. Its a modern and capable machine, which can seamlessly blend into our existing fleet.

    If existing maintenance lines are the only consideration, we might as well buy more MiG-21s and upgrade them with hi-tech thingamajigs.

    Or we could buy a truly modern fighter and tackle the logistical hurdles that would invariably arise. As it is, our MiG-21s, MiG-27s, MiG-29s, and Mirage-2000s might be gone sooner than you think, leaving us with a not-so-diverse inventory.

    BTW, if the MiG-35 is more “modern and capable” than the MiG-29, it *won’t* seamlessly blend into our fleet. The aircraft’s similarities with the older MiG-29 pretty much stop at the airframe. We would still need to start afresh with tactics and training, and even have to set up new supply lines.

  21. The Mig-35 will have a lot in common with the Mig-29's which are currently being heavily upgraded, as well as the Mig-29K's (Weapons, similar training modules, some electronics systems, engine's, lot of spare parts compatability, etc.)

    The current Mig-35 being trialled is basically a rebadged Mig-29M series with upgraded electronics & AESA, not the SMT.

  22. D/A,
    With all probablity the IAF is going to go for the Rafael or the SH18-E/F.
    Reasons :
    1. Dassault has placed a sales pitch of complete TOT along with the Radar and the SW Codes.
    Appealing as it will give India cutting age tech in aviation and radar required for future R&D.

    2. SH18-E/F is proven and battle hardened beast. F-16 doesn't fits in as Pakistan would soon have its block 52 versions and also see some under MLU by the Turkish Aerospace Ltd. The only argument going against the SH18-E/F is that, unlike its predecessor SH18 which was a ground based system, the SH18-E/F is a naval system and soem people are questioning the rational of it getting inducted into an AF. However it wont be a big hurdle as the changes can be incorporated pretty easily.

    This leaves us with the final 2 questions.
    1. Developing completely new infrastructure along with logistics ("Spanners included") to support the new ACs.
    2. Workaround the US End User Agreements which curtails a customers freedom to sale/refurbish/use in combat, of the systems aquired.

    Conlusion : If the aforementioned points are managed somehow, then the Super Hornets are a platform worth investing. Most of the other platforms barring the Falcons have not really seen combat and specially the MIG-35 is in essence a fresher without a AESA Radar. Gripen is a system that has so few a customer base that one shudders to think about its future upgrades and further developement. The Typhoon is just damn expensive with very limited A2G capability. The PAF has the F-16s…so its left between the RAFAEL and the SH18-E/Fs.

  23. I believe the front runners will be Mig – 35 / F-18 Super Hornet. both the jets are best but f-18 is not 100 % TOT / Problems in end-user agreement. If we get TOT for f-18 in AESA radar also our peoples will not develop for newer version. If it is for 200 nos ,so india may be selecting Mig-35 & F-18 combined

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