New Light On Why India Rejected The F-16 & F/A-18

ASHLEY J TELLIS, commentator and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment has a new piece in India’s FORCE magazine which quite substantially fleshes out the stated reasons why the two US contenders in India’s M-MRCA fighter competition — the F-16IN and F/A-18E/F — were eliminated in a late April decision. The Pentagon, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, which have been quite silent (about the reasons for the elimination) since the decision, appear to have got their side of things across quite amply, and in great detail, in Mr Tellis’ column. For starters, they’ve shown him those rejection letters they got. A highly readable report. Here’s some of the juice:

Tellis’ report notes that the F-16IN was found non-compliant on five counts: “growth potential, carefree handling (and automatic sensing of external stores), sustained turn rate, engine change time, and assurance against obsolescence over a 15-year period.

Tellis puts the F-16IN’s failure to meet the IAF’s enging change time requirement down “largely to an idiosyncratic mishap during the field trials”. He writes, “It is certain that if the trials were to involve multiple stochastic demonstrations of engine change, the F-16IN would have easily made the mark. Unfortunately, second chances are sometimes not available, and the IAF, for its own reasons, chose not to accept Lockheed Martin’s subsequent evidence of being able to meet the engine change standards laid down in the ASQR.”

Tellis also suggests that the “blurry” nature of the reasons why the F/A-18 was rejected give him doubt about whether the IAF gave the Super Hornet an “equitable shot”. He notes that the reasons Boeing was given for the rejection of the F/A-18 were four: “the maturity of its engine design, the growth potential of its engine, assorted performance shortfalls, and issues related to special preventative maintenance“.

Read the full piece, here. Good read.

Quoted text & image ©FORCE Magazine

38 thoughts on “New Light On Why India Rejected The F-16 & F/A-18”

  1. Another multi-page soap opera from Tellis which twists facts to suit a particular argument. I am all for Ashley Tellis's advocacy of US weaponry, but he misses the minor point of being objective. Just like his earlier piece-Dogfight which was riddled with errors on technical issues. Here's a sneak sample of bloopers from his latest piece-

    1. The view that the IAF shouldn't have focussed on 'hot rod' aerial performance; any pilot, air force observer will tell you that 'if it flies right, it fights well'.

    2. That the Super Hornet's new EPE engines would rectify shortcomings in its parameters. Top speed and turn rates are as much attributed to design parameters as to engine performance. If improving thrust was all that was required, we could have kept upgrading the Mig-21!!

    3. That the European aircraft are somehow deficient in BVR-range performance and WVR technology; the European aircraft with their newer AESA radar/Meteor missiles and new high-off boresight missiles would be as good as, if not better than any US offering other than the F-22.

    4. That the Euro-fighters were inferior in the strike role; the Eurofighter has a payload close to that of the Super hornet, while the Rafale carries more. With a lot of weapons being integrated. Besides if your aircraft can't stay in the air, there's no point in being good at hitting targets on the ground.

  2. Yes, indeed it was a good read, though I was afraid life would pass me by the time I finished reading. phew!.

    It is a bit naive to say EUMA, technological blockade after Pokhran II had nothing to do with it. The US should have offered assurance of supplies and technology considering their history.

    This is the same reason that will now hold EFT at a disadvantage. Germany has proved in the past it can get on it's high horse and start preaching really quickly.

  3. Ashley Tellis works for american interests, enough said.

    I could hear him cry when F-16 and SH were rejected.

  4. If EF is inferior in ground strikes , how IAF selects it as per technically, MMRCA is mainly for ground strike purpose along with multi role .

  5. @Anon 6.14 pm : indeed ! The German opposition is now fighting hard against this deal, as reported by Frontier India and confirmed if you check in German press media. Not encouraging.

  6. I am not suggesting that American had the best product, because I am in no position to judge. But, please do not give a total BS for a reson to reject something. I do feel that Rafal an EF are greater chance of being discontinued if since the order book is not big enough (even after the 126- 200 for India). EF is dependant on several partner nations, and usually such joint ventures do not survive for too long, sooner or later a rift between partners is likely. The French bird maker suffers from low revenue and could be out of business if sales do not improve. I do not see either of the two aircrafts for more than two decades, something that is about half as long as normal life of an IAF plane. Ofcourse this is based on some financial data on yahoo finance, and a lot on my own opinion.

  7. "The focus on agility, turn rates, thrustto-
    weight ratios, handling, and in general,
    aerodynamic performance, provides
    clear indication that what the IAF
    wanted most dearly in its MMRCA was a
    ‘super hot rod of the skies’ — an aircraft
    that would excel in air combat manoeuvring
    because it possessed superior
    speed, acceleration, and nimbleness"

    Smoking much?

  8. AJT is a well known US agent for selling weapons to India. He was pitching for F-16/18 for years. He has 0 creditability.

  9. what a waste of time reading this from M Tellis, spinning around already in former articles that french navy were replacing thier "Corsairs " for Rafale, or French AF replacing thier "F5's" with Rafale, can't take back my breath laffin at this article! F16 IN assurance of obsolecence over a 15 years period?

    This guy 's a Specialist? really?

  10. Anonymous,

    You can improve the strike capabilities of a fighter. The F-15E, SU-30, Mirage-V and Mig-27 are examples of that. The Eurofighter can carry a payload of up to 7 tonnes…close to that of the Super hornet.

    You cannot improve the air to air capabilities of a strike aircraft to the same level.

  11. It seems that Tellis is exhorting us to be objective while at the same time himself choosing not to do so with a generous mixing of subjectivity in his own every evaluation parameter of the competition! Ohh it can not fly.. but look at it, it is cheap! Our product will fail everywhere in the competition but include us and buy our wares as we are partners. What, how can you tell this in public that our products are old and inferior when we are going to sell it in other countries (Brazil FX), what will they say? Big mistake, you should have soft peddled it using your MEA and kept it under wraps so that we can no only get undue negotiating chances with you and would have opportunity to influence the outcome by diplomacy (read subjectivity and corruption) but would do the same in other countries as well!

    In his opinions, it seems that AJT thinks that only Ashley J. Tellis & Company can know and tell what constitute and adds to the true value of a fighting system and if those constituent parameters are not present in the those offered by Ashley J. Tellis & Company then those parameters are either not important or contribute nothing to the strategic value. Even based on his argument, it is not a single vendor downselect and there would be plenty of venues of negotiations between two vendors to bring the price down and get a better bargain in the process. If we really wanted a cheap aircraft in the competition as the third downselect to bring down the prices in the competition then we could always have included Mig-35 which would always have been cheaper than F-18 option on any given day. So in a nutshell, all the fluff and hot air Ashley J. Tellis & Company is blowing our way holds no water!

  12. Ashley Tellis has a job to do, and must sing for his supper. Howlers and a thoroughly faulty analysis are expected when a strategic affairs expert takes on matters related to weaponry. But you don't repeat them like Ashley has in carrying some over from "Dogfight" to this article, which should be titled "A Dog's Breakfast for LM and Boeing"!

    India is spending billions on the US arms industry, and expects a strategic relationship like none other – on a par with the Western European nations and Israel. Thus far the US has fallen very short – I mean simple things like our Ambassador getting frisked at Jackson Airport, MS. India realized very early that there is only so much money can do and gaining the sort of leverage that Israel enjoys will take a little longer. And a rejection here and there sends a strong signal that we can't be sold (not bought because we are spending the money).

    While I forgive Ashley for his military howlers, I am not sure what to make of his reports on the goings on the interactions between MEA, MoD and the US Embassy when the dog's breakfast was announced.

    In its zeal to treat this competition as just another routine procurement decision falling solely within its own competence, the
    acquisition wing of the ministry of defence communicated its final choice to the American vendors through the defence attaché’s office at the US Embassy in New Delhi without first informing the
    ministry of external affairs. This action put the latter in the embarrassing position of not knowing about the defence
    ministry’s decision a priori and, as a result, was unable to forewarn the United States.

    Is Ashley naive or is he misrepresenting something? For a person who was born and raised in India he seems to remember v.little of how we Indians work. Or probably because he has no idea of how our bureaucracy works? If Ashley is buying what some MEA staffer is telling him about being embarrassed, he must be easily fooled. The US needs more reliable analysts who understand how India works and not attempt to create its own reality.

  13. A businessman shouting from his last trench for F-16/18.

    Now after reading this article I feel that the decision of IAF was more than justified.

  14. Anna,

    The engine is not the issue here; the aircraft's performance is. The Swedish Gripen-NG can supercruise with the same F-414 engine. The engine can offset factors such as drag, poor wing-loading and overall configuration only to a limited extent.

  15. Anonymous @ 7:00 PM

    Both the Eurofighter, Rafale and Gripen will all survive until at least 2040; their respective air forces and manufacturers have said so. For the simple reason, that these are the only products that their defense companies are making. In other words, their governments will support them for the simple reason of preserving an independent defense sector. At whatever cost.

  16. IAF hit where USA hurt more. They are not always no 1 in Products.
    This in not discovery channel or nat geo

    Aha… bad obsession hard to digest by USA

  17. I used to read his articles in TOI long time ago & even then he was known for this tech jargon & general verbiage, this article is no different plus his unabashed love for all things American (at least he knows which side his bread is buttered. But there seems to be some truth in the following lines.
    ‘it would have been worthwhile to include the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the short-list, even if the service had no intention whatsoever of finally purchasing the aircraft, because it would have increased India’s bargaining leverage tremendously. Without a cheaper option in the mix, the IAF is now left with the choice of two expensive fighters — the Eurofighter at some USD125 million and the Rafale at some USD85 million — both of which have much smaller production runs.'

  18. Anon @ 10:37 AM

    I would disagree with his prescription. He has consistently hammered the point that the process is fair. Only technical criteria ruled and no other factor counted. Now this assumes the second half of the selection to be fair as well. If that be the case then the lowest bidder is anyways a shoo-in (other criteria being met). The price differential is so much that there is no way other manufacturers could beat SH price.

    By this logic why the SH. We should have kept the MiG in the fray. It was the cheapest of the lot.

  19. SH will be happy if based on the results of the competition 50 nos of A/Cs are selected from F-16/18, Mig-35 & Gripen for immediate delivery.

  20. Who is this guy to say that DPP is BS and a better procedure should have kept US products in the shortlist ? MOD and IAF have downselected the best answers to their needs, that's all. The finalists may be expensive but Eurobirds are worth the money, especially Rafale which is now quite mature and clearly more multirole than the F-18 !

  21. Nobody noticed this snippet – EADS is planning to exit the fighter business. Better to go for the Rafale then – long term – instead of Eurofighter.

  22. Amriki game is not over yet. The ministry of finance has to formally approve the choice of either shortlisted contender.

    It has to be convinced that paying 4 times the cheapest contender is worth it.

    MOF can, per existing weapons procurement process throw the whole thing in a spin.

  23. Anonymous @ 10.37

    If the Super Hornet or any of the other contenders were shortlisted, they would have been deemed to be fit to be purchased since they met all the requisite technical criterion.

    The problem with your logic is that the Boeing folks could claim that their product being the cheapest SHOULD BE SELECTED; that's where the Lowest Bidder clause becomes crucial. It doesn't matter if the IAF selects another product, but a losing bidder with a significantly lower price can legitimately and successfully appeal the decision. By selecting two aircraft with very little difference in unit price, the IAF has smartly taken the L-1 clause out of the window. If the Super hornet was included as you said, it would have brought the L-1 clause back in.

  24. When he write "A more effective procurement procedure etc…", he just implies it's because the IAF don't really know what characteristics make a good fighter that they rejected the US planes. What an arrogant and ill-informed statement.

  25. If 400 F-18s can be purchased for the cost of 200 EFT/Rafale, then it may also need to be statistically proven that 400 F-18s are better than 200 EFT/Rafale in wars or warlike situations.

    I do not think that 400 F-18s are better than 200 EFT/Rafale in wars or warlike situations.

  26. While the zeal for probity
    in defence is indeed commendable, it
    is not clear that such rectitude actually advances Indian national security if it comes at the cost of the inefficient apportionment of scarce defence resources.

    So Ashley thinks LM and Boeing should have been allowed to bribe their way into this deal? Ashley being American need not worry about Indian laws (excepting when he is in India) but surely he cares about US law? The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and its successor the International Anti-Bribery Act forbid US corporations from bribing their way to success abroad. But of course US corporations or the government don't bribe. There are several other ways favours are offered. For decades now Indian bureaucrats' children (just like Pak generals' children) have been allowed to migrate to the US to study and settle down as they please. US banks have for years hired the children of business families. But with India's economy growing by leaps and bounds and Indian corporations themselves growing into international behemoths, the US does not glitter that much any longer.

  27. Anonymous @ 2.52pm

    The Finance Ministry can only object if the Ministry of Defence/Air Force fails to choose the cheapest among all the TECHNICALLY QUALIFIED systems. In other words, the finance ministry cannot comment on aircraft which are deemed to have not qualified for the Air Force's requirement. That would be stepping into technical territory.

  28. Mr.Tellis wants to change an objective eval, to a subjective one, where graft and political deals should be given the highest preference. Traitor to the country, you decide which one.

  29. If growth potential was an issue for rejecting, then how come the TEC approved this factor for both F 16 and F 18. Some thing is fishy here. How can one technically approve in the TEC and then reject in the flight evaluation. That means there was a disconnect during the TEC itself.

  30. Anonymous @ 10.40pm

    Growth potential by itself is meaningless if you don't evaluate an aircraft in a holistic sense. Weapons trials, servicing, engine change, agility all constitute these evaluations. An aircraft's baseline performance will give the user a realistic idea of the possibility of growth. For example, integrating a newer engine to the Super Hornet or F-16 will not improve it's supercruise capability since neither had the capability to begin with. That is not the case with the Gripen or Eurofighter. Same goes for avionics; airframe structure, nose design etc are all a factor in determining the efficacy of growth.

  31. Lockheed Martin should have offered the F-16 Block 50/52 with a futuristic RACR or SABR AESA rather than a obese F-16 Block 60 which performed below par as compared to Rafale. Even so, the growth potential of F-16s are limited and IAF wants a plane which can be relevant even after 2040.The F-A-18 also suffered because of its enormous weight and sluggish performance in trials Same goes for Mig-35 in which several flaws were detected. The Gripen was more of an LCA type of aircraft and therefore as expected the choices narrowed down to the Typhoon & Rafale which offer a tremendous growth potential for its users. If Rafale wins in India it might secure export orders from Brazil, U.A.E., Malaysia, Kuwait, Switzerland where it is in contention with other jets.

  32. The F-16 is the most combat proven fighter in the world. India cannot afford the F-35 and F-22 (that and the US will not export either) and the F-15 does not fit the defense capability/goals of the IAF. Both the Swedish and French offerings are good fighters, but neither can contest the F-16, on the ground (mx) or in the air.

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