The most prominent program that dominated the recent air-show
is the long expected US$6–11 billion plan to replace aging
MiG-21s, 27 and Jaguars with 126 new multi-role combat aircraft
(MRCA). The program was repeatedly delayed since 2005, when
a formal request for Proposal (RFP) was expected. Although such
request has not been filed yet, unofficial plans are calling
for initial procuring of aircraft as early as 2010, as these
are desperately needed to enhance operational readiness primarily
with current MiG-21 squadrons, severely depleted in recent years
due to the deterioration of aircraft, frequent technical failures
Considered to be the largest, single fighter procurement outside
the U.S. market, this program attracted all major world players
gathering in Bangalore. The optimistic tried to impress the
locals with stunning flight demonstrations while others opted
to reserve their resources pitching their offers pampered with
attractive economical benefits.
All major producers of combat
aircraft were present. The Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC)
MiG Company, demonstrated two versions of the MiG-29 –
the MiG-29M OTV flight demonstrator, equipped with two 3D thrust
vector nozzles, RD33 engines and fly-by-wire technology. (Thrust
vector technology is already used on the Indian Air Force Su-30MKI.)
Bangalore was the first international debut for the production
version of the MiG-35 (Nato
reporting name Fulcrum F), which was unveiled in Russia only
one month before the exhibition. This aircraft is based on the
MiG-29M OTV, using the RD-33 which could mount the OVT thrust
vectoring control (TVC) kit to improve the aircraft maneuverability.
It also uses the latest Zhuk-AE
phased array active electronically scanning array (AESA) radar.
On the parked MiG-35 VIPs could get a closer look at the Russian
latest AESA radar – the Zhuk-AE AESA, developed by Phazotron
NIIR Corporation. India is already operating the BAR phased
array radar on its Su-30MKI and has specified AESA as a critical
element of the MRCA platform.
American competitors entered the contest – Lockheed Martin
displayed the F-16
while Boeing demonstrated the twin-engine F/A-18E/F. Both companies
are proposing their latest versions for the MRCA program. The
Super Hornet is slightly large and considered to be an expensive
proposition for the Indian requirement but is including almost
all Indian requirements in the basic 'Super hornet' standard.
The F-16 is also a suitable option. Although the aircraft is
considered to be at the end of its "career", and its
maneuverability is inferior to the MiG-35, Lockheed Martin is
expected to offer the F-16 with highly sophisticated avionics
package, including the APG-80-0
AESA radar, making this mature platform an interesting proposition
for the Indian requirement, especially when net-centric precision
attack is considered.
Gripen International sent three aircraft to participate at
the airshow, two twin-seater JAS-39D and a single seater JAS-39C.
Saab also installed a complete Gripen cockpit simulator, at
a special pavilion, to introduce visitors to the aircraft unique
attributes. Gripen is well positioned to attract Indian attention
with a sleek, modern and cost efficient platform, designed as
a multi-mission aircraft suitable as a compact companion to
the larger Su-30MKI. The manufacturer plans to offer India the
new version, similar to the JAS-39N competing against the JSF
for a Norwegian Air Force order. Saab has designed the aircraft
with an "open" architecture, enabling efficient integration
of modern or indigenous avionics, weapons and other systems.
Designed to address Swedish operational concept of deployment
from dispersed emergency locations, Gripen requires minimal
support when operating at forward operating bases and offers
the lowest life cycle, operating and support costs for its class.
The JAS-39 engines is the F-404, identical to the one used in
the first batch of LCA Tejas, offering logistical advantages
for the IAF.
French Dassault is promoting the Rafale for the MRCA competition.
Experienced with the way decisions can be dragged in India,
sources at Dassault told Defense Update that they expect the
decision may not be as imminent as some tend to think. The company
is also expecting an Indian decision to modernize part of its
Mirage 2000 fighters. The European consortium Eurofighter will
also submit its proposal for the MRCA, offering the Typhoon,
which has recently won an important order from Saudi-Arabia.
The MRCA decision will not be based only on technical consideration.
India is expected to gain the highest dividends of its investment,
either by gaining more concessions from Russia, such as imposing
of export restrictions on China, preventing the delivery of
advanced engines slated for the upgrade of Pakistani air-force
Chinese made aircraft. While Russia leans more toward India,
the U.S. continues supporting Pakistan. Within the recent months,
the US government cleared multiple arms transfers to Pakistan,
including F-16 fighters, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft
and various missiles. Balancing its close ties with Pakistan,
the U.S. recently softened its position toward India - one such
step was the relaxation or export restrictions related to business
transactions with India's civilian nuclear plants.
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