From the DEW Line, it appears that India’s MMRCA competition may about to be knocked down to two competitors – the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale. In saying that, I don’t think anyone is taking this report for granted just yet.
However, let’s for a moment assume that the Typhoon and Rafale really have been short listed, or at very least appear to be very highly favored.
This would be a shot in the arm for the Eurofighter consortium after the recent blow in Oman. It’s a turnaround too for Dassault considering that a little over a year ago the Rafale was almost removed from the competition entirely.
Both aircraft are the most expensive offering and arguably the most capable (certainly if offered with AESA radars). In terms of capability, this is an indication that India is seeking out the best it can get to maintain a regional dominance in a part of the world that is seeing increasing military modernization. India appears to have turned away from the lighter aircraft put forward (F-16, Gripen and MiG-35), perhaps an indication in the increasing confidence of India’s indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft program. In the heavier aircraft camp, both of the European airframes can avoid some of the long term technology transfer and spare parts supply issues which could affect the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet bid due to stricter US export controls which have stung India in the past. Ordering US transport aircraft are one thing, but depending on them for the long term support of your front line fighter fleet is another matter.
India and Europe appear to be getting closer as of late, and British PM David Cameron has stated that he wants to develop a stronger relationship between Britain and India.
In a positive sign for the Typhoon, India signed up for a follow on order of 57 additional BAE Hawk trainers last month, a sign perhaps that the difficulties and frustrations of the first Hawk sale have been happily put to one side. There is also the possible adoption of the Typhoon’s Eurojet 200 engines for the Mk2 Tejas fighters, which could help swing a deal.
The Rafale has some compelling advantages too. The aircraft has an excellent air-to-ground capability and an established naval capability, which although not part of this competition, could make a handy tie-breaker if India decides down the road to introduce the Rafale M variant for its carrier force. Plus, Dassault may be willing to negotiate a little more than others on the sticker price to secure a much needed export order.
To be honest, any of the six competitors could be chosen on one merit or another, despite a surprisingly large range is capabilities between them. I guess it’s a positive for the industry that so many good aircraft are in the running that there is no clear favorite.