MMRCA V2.0: Indian Air Force’s Options For New Fighter Jets

Boeing F-15EX Multi-role Fighter Jet

Unlike the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Future Fighter Jet Procurement Program or the Finland’s HX Programme, Indian Air Force MMRCA brings the different prospective to the competition. While the Canadian procurement programme is based on 60% technical merit, 20% industry participation or offset clause and 20% financial proposal, the Indian Government proposes technical requirements and offset clause. The 36 Rafale orders proved that the financial clause of Indian government has less likely to impact on actual procurement or an work order to the prospective OEM and suppliers.

The Indian MMRCA programme is to replace legacy Russian aircraft has entered its interesting phase with the country set to validate entrants from Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Lockheed Martin and Saab.

There are political baggage comes with the procurement of the fighter jet for Indian Air Force. In the past, India maintain East and West suppliers, in fact, India is the only country in the world capable of freely procuring almost any high-tech equipment from Russia, United States and European Union. India signed several security protocols (GSOMIA, LEMOA AND ACSA) with the US which allows the US to supply high-tech military equipment to the Indian Armed Forces. The Indian Government placed work order to American companies worth more than $15 billion.

Although, the 36 Dessault Rafale procurement was transparent declared by the Indian High Court, the procurement of military equipment for Indian Armed Forces can be shoddy, allegations and history of corruptions are common in that country and sometimes Indian Government select OEM based on either offset clause or to remind Russia that Russia is not the only supplier for Indian Armed Forces.

The no-longer silent contest for the non-tender competition to win the privilege to set up an assembly line for fighter aircraft in India is now underway, now that the Dessault Aviation has finally built and supplied several Rafale Jets to Indian Air Force, India can move on to the MMRCA v2.0.

The five competitors; Saab, Boeing, Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Lockheed Martin had held their peace after their RFI were qualified from the Indian Air Force (IAF) tender for $15 dollars Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

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The Russian Mikoyan Design Bureau MiG-35 had been disqualified twice from the competition for not having an AESA radar and sensors that meet the technical requirements of the IAF.

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Although Typhoon meets the technical requirements, but it’s highly unlikely that the IAF will select the European Typhoon fighter jet due to four European nations have specific regulations on technology transfer for the offset clause. India has experience working with the British and Italian aerospace major BAE systems and Leonardo Company respectively,-but not having an experience with the German and Spanish OEM makes it harder for Indian Government put faith on the companies from Germany and Spain under “Make in India” initiatives.

Since then, Boeing has offered to set up a production line for the twin-engine F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15EX, Lockheed Martin has pitched for an F-21 and Saab has proposed the Gripen E for production in India, in line with the government’s Make in India initiative. The F-21 and Gripen are both single-engined aircraft.

The Boeing sort an approval US Defense Department to sale F-15EX to the IAF was approved by the Defense Department. The F-15EX is a complete package, a single sole supplier and a single originating OEM,- which will make IAF decision maker rethink about MMRCA v2.0. The IAF has a history of vigorous testing and appetite for high-end American and European military equipment.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will certainly take into account the recent Kashmir Skirmish and failure of Russian Su-30MKI and R-77 air-to-air missile.

But the absence of a Request For Proposal (RFP) makes bidding a difficult process. And even though it is the government’s intention to work around the tedious DPP-based tender process, which cost eight years without a result last time, this lack of parameters also makes it difficult for the government to assess the relative merits of each offer.

In theory, the five companies could make structured offers based on, say, a range of aircraft numbers, level of manufacturing capability and cost, which could be compared by the Indian government. But since this is not a tender process and there are no Staff Qualitative Requirements (SQRs), a number of other important considerations also come into play.

Transfer of Technology

Offset clause is a political and over-hyped subject in India. Indian Government and local industries are dubious about their capability to cater to advanced technology. One of these reasons, Dassault Aviation never wanted to work with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to produce Rafale aircraft jointly. Indian Industry has lots of reputation problems, lacks cybersecurity and not transparent enough about their industrial capabilities.

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This contest between five contenders in the MMRCA will be partly decided by the level of technology each is willing to share with India. An offer of technology transfer will be subject to approval by the Swedish and U.S. governments, respectively. American Lockheed Martin had already invested with Indian TASL to build Apache helicopter’s fuselage and C-130J airframe.

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Saab has already stolen a march on it’s competitors by offering its ‘ITAR-free’ Galium Nitride AESA radar technology, something which the U.S. and European perfected only. This is also technology that India would be eager to possess.

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The possibility very high that the USA will share most of the technology like the much needed GE engines for Indian indigenous fighter aircraft and the proposed MMRCA aircraft. India already received technology from America to produce composites, carbon fibre and metal bonding, much more through Lockheed-TASL joint venture. It is doubtful if the U.S. would be willing to share it’s existing AESA radar technology.

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The Indian operating environment is different to other countries but comparable to the Middle Eastern countries.

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Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet

Boeing told in a press release that as a follow-up to the Hornet, the infrastructure to support the Indian Air Force in flying the Super Hornet essentially already exists. With many existing industry partners in Indian already up and running it would be possible to perform assembly of the aircraft or components in the country.

Super Hornet

The Super Hornet is a mainstay of the US Navy’s aerial power, with Boeing saying the Block III Super Hornet can engage threats across air, land and sea.
Boeing explained: “The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the world’s most proven and affordable multi-role fighter and will continue to evolve with the development of the next-generation Block III Super Hornet.

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“The Block III configuration adds capability upgrades that include enhanced network capability and processor, longer range, reduced radar signature, advanced cockpit system, enhanced communications system, as well as the life of the airframe being extended from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours.”

This history of providing the legacy fleet of Hornets means a large amount of the infrastructure needed to support a fleet of Super Hornets is already in place, with Boeing estimating that around 60% of existing Hornet tooling can be used to support the newer aircraft, increasing cost savings of the programme.

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Boeing added: “Ultimately, its entirely new airframe, proven capabilities, low-risk and known, affordable acquisition price, low documented life cycle costs, and guaranteed delivery schedule, make Super Hornet ideally suited to meet India’s fighter aircraft requirement.”

Dassault Rafale

Unlike the rest of the pack, Dassault has been somewhat in advanced position its decision to offer the Rafale to the Indian Air Force for their MMRCA programme as India already poses Rafale aircraft.

Rafale

The aircraft comes in a number of variants including a carrier fighter.

Read More Dassault Rafale: A True Omnirole Combat Aircraft

According to Indian media, Dassault has offered Indian the ability to operate the aircraft independently from France with the potential for the components to be manufactured in the country if so desired.

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Dassault describes the aircraft on its website as “the right answer to the capability approach selected by an increasing number of governments,” adding that the Rafale offers the ability to “carry out the widest range of roles with the smallest number of aircraft.”

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Dassault describes the fighter jet as ‘omnirole’ rather than multi-role saying that it the Rafale is: “relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats, it addresses the emerging needs of the armed forces in a changing geopolitical context, and it remains at the forefront of technical innovation.”

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Lockheed Martin F-21

Lockheed also touts the large international user base of the F-16 as a potential advantage of the fighter, increasing interoperability with several of India’s allies both in Europe and across the world. The F-21 will ‘help India’ ensure its national security and its ability for building partnerships and interoperability for decades to come,’ according to Lockheed.

The company says use of the aircraft within Europe is a means to increase partnership opportunities and cost-sharing ability, which would also help to reduce through-life costs. The aircraft is set to operate long into this century, with its service life projected through to 2070.

The Lockheed-TASL partnership puts F-21 into great advantage position in the competition.

Saab Gripen

Describing why the aircraft is a good fit for the Indian Armed Forces, Saab told Air Force Technology: “Gripen E/F features the latest available technology for the continuously changing and very challenging operational environment.

Brazilian Air Force Gripen E

“Gripen has been designed from the start for the challenging operations and threat scenarios very similar to those in India. It is built for road-base operations, harsh climate and easy maintenance by conscript mechanics.”

The Gripen has undergone evaluation on January 2020 and will face the same tests as its competition. A number of countries already use the Gripen, including Brazil, Sweden and Hungary, as well as other customers across the world.

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Saab is offering the E/F variant which features an advanced electronic warfare package designed to detect threats before they locate the aircraft.

Eurofighter Typhoon

The Typhoon became the first of the five possible fighters to take part in the competition’s, with the aircraft’s performance being tested under the operation of UK Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots.

Eurofighter Typhoon

A key test for the Typhoon will be all-weather testing to make sure it can handle Indian environments and still perform to expectations.

There are close to 500 Eurofighters in Europe and, through that, we have demonstrated the aircraft can operate in the most difficult and demanding of conditions in the Middle East.

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“For example, Eurofighter provides to the defense of the Falkland Islands from RAF Mount Pleasant in the South Atlantic, operating some 13,000km away from ‘home’ bases in the UK. On top of that, Eurofighters from across the European air force regularly undertake NATO Baltic Air Policing and over their own airspace.”

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Like many of the other fighters on offer, the Typhoon has seen extensive service with European Air Forces including the German Luftwaffe, the UK Royal Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare.

Side by Side Comparison

Attribute Gripen Eurofighter Rafale Super Hornet F-15EX F-21
Combat Role Swing-role Multi-role Omnirole Multi-role Multi-role Multi-role
Manufacturer Saab Group Eurofighter Consortium Dassault Aviation Boeing Defence Boeing Defence Lockheed Martin
Country of Origin Sweden EU France America America America
Aircraft Generation 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5
Mission Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent
Weapons carried Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship   Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship   Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship   Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship   Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship   Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship  
Weapon Origin EU and US EU and US EU and US US and EU US and EU US and EU
Engine GE F414-GE-39E turbofan Eurojet EJ200 turbofan Snecma M88 engines GE F414-GE-400 turbofan P&W F100 or GE F110 turbofan F110-GE-129 or F100-PW-229
Speed Mach 2 Mach 2+ Mach 1.8 Mach 1.9 Mach 2 plus Mach 2
AESA Radar Raven ES-05 CAPTOR-E RBE2 AN/APG-79 AN/APG-82 AN/APG-81
Combat Radius 800 nm 1,500nm 1,000nm 449nm 790nm 295nm
Ferry Ranges 2200 nm 2,050nm 2,000nm 1,800nm 2,400nm 2,277nm
Service Ceiling 50000 feet 65,000 feet 50,000 feet 50,000 feet 60,000 feet 59,055 feet
G limit 9 +9 +9 9 +9 +9
BVRAAM Meteor, AIM-120C/D Meteor, AIM-120C/D Meteor, MICA AIM-120C/D AIM-120C/D AIM-120C/D
SRAAM IRIS-T, AIM-9, A-Darter (Brazil) IRIS-T, AIM-9 IRIS-T, AIM-9, MICA AIM-9X, ASRAAM (RAAF) AIM-9X, ASRAAM AIM-9X, ASRAAM
Anti-ship RBS-15 Harpoon Exocet Harpoon Harpoon Harpoon
Bombs GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II
Cruise Missile/ Anti-radiation MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG, SLAM-ER, JSOW MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG SLAM-ER, JSOW, JASSM, LRASM SLAM-ER, JSOW, JASSM, LRASM SLAM-ER, JSOW, JASSM, LRASM
Sensors EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod EW Pod, IRST,  Targeting Pod EW Pod, IRST,  Targeting Pod EW Pod, IRST,  Targeting Pod
CountermeasuresChaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, Electronic countermeasures,
EW Attack Pod
Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, Electronic countermeasures Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, Electronic countermeasures Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, electronic countermeasures, EW Attack PodChaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, electronic countermeasures, AN/ASQ-236 EW Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, electronic countermeasures,
EW Attack Pod
Data LinkLink 16, VHF, UHF Link 16, VHF, UHF Satellite, VHF, UHF, DRDO Data Link (India Only)Link 16, VHF, UHF Link 16, VHF, UHF Link 16,VHF, UHF

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