The Indian Air Force has concluded the technical assessment of six fighter aircraft proposed for the Medium MultiRole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program, paving the way for the Ministry of Defense to decide on the Air Force’s US$10 billion (Rs 42,000 crore) acquisition of 126 new fighters plus options for additional 63. The six proposals considered by the Indians included the Typhoon, proposed by the European Eurofighter consortium, the French Rafale from Dassault, the Russian MiG-35 from United Aircraft Corporation subsidiary RSK-MiG, the Gripen E/F, proposed by the Swedish Saab group; Two proposals were submitted by U.S. companies – Boeing offered the Super Hornet F/A-18 E/F and Lockheed Martin proposed the F-16 E/F Fighting Falcon. The Air Force report provides a technical assessment of the six candidates.
The commercial proposals, including industrial cooperation and local participation will be evaluated by the MOD beginning this week. According to unconfirmed media reports, the Indians, seeking a modern fighter, have rated both European fighters – the Rafale and Typhoon as the most preferred types and both are shortlisted for the next phase with the Boeing Super Hornet considered a ‘marginal option’. The Swedish Gripen was determined to be redundant to India’s indigenous Teja; both the Russian MiG-35 and the U.S. F-16E/F are based on obsolete platforms (both are based on 40 year old platform designs) and hence are not conforming with the program’s primary directive.
However, the weight of the technical parameters in the final evaluation is not exclusive and determinant, since final decisions on the MMRCA will be based on the economic and political interests. New Delhi’s aim to tighten its relations with Europe is clear, and such deals are likely, since India has signed significant orders with Franch and the U.K. in the past.
However, Russia still has the inroad to India’s military and politics and, therefore, despite its financial alleged insufficient engine lifespan shortcoming, “the MiG-35 is likely to remain in the picture until the end” according to Sergei Kornyev, the department head of Russia’s Air Force special equipment and services at a press conference in Farnborough last month. Facing serious consequences of the planned reduction of 90 Typhoons destined for the RAF and Italian Air Force, Eurofighter is hopeful that winning the MMRCA program could compensate for these production losses and boost the program research and development for the advanced, multirole Tranch 3 phase.
For Dassault, being shortlisted by the Indian could drive Brazil to finally announce its FX-2 decision in favor of the French fighter. Winning both program could transform the Rafale from a lame duck into the leading fighter in the export market, offering the French, Indian and Brazilian aerospace industries attractive prospects for the future.
The final decision on the Indian MMRCA fighter of choice could be taken around 2011-2012. Indian Air Force officials are hopeful that Initial deliveries could be expedited and arrive in India two years after the contract award.
In addition to the ongoing MMRCA selection, India defense ministry has announced plans to increase India’s orders for Su-30MKI fighters by 42 aircraft, to be delivered over four years beginning 2014. The $4.3 billion deal will increase the number of aircraft to be produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) to 200, setting India’s inventory of Su-30MKI fighters at at 250. India is also cooperating with Russia on the development of the next generation T-50 (PAK-FA) fifth generation fighter developed by Sukhoi. The program, valued at about US$8 billion is partly financed by New Delhi.