Squeaky bum time in Indian MMRCA competition

F-16 IN.jpg

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once called the tail end of the season, when the real title contenders step up their game amid the pressure and peel away from their rivals, the squeaky bum time.

That is probably an apt description for the six contenders in India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft competition. The flight evaluation trials are moving into full gear as each company attempts to prove that its offer is the best option for India.

The Boeing F/A-18E/F has completed the first leg at the humid conditions at Bangalore, and is moving to the hot weather trials at Jaisalmer and then the cold weather trials at Leh and Ladakh. Lockheed Martin has brought two United Arab Emirates F-16s, which are similar to the proposed Indian configuration, to Bangalore.

The remaining contenders, the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen IN and RSK MiG MiG-35, will be closely following news of the competition.

None of the companies are saying much, given that the Indian air force has issued strict instructions not to reveal any details about the trials. That is not unexpected, given how much is at stake. The IAF will want to complete the trials as fairly as possible and in one go. The last thing that it wants is allegations of unfair competition or, even worse, holding fresh trials.

I am not a betting man, it is anyone’s guess as to how this will run, and all guesses are welcome in the comments section.

But to those who claim to know that one aircraft is the front-runner or it is a sealed deal for another, it would probably be best to remember another of the great man’s quotes. After his team lost a match, Ferguson memorably said: “We controlled the game without finishing them off.” The MMRCA contenders and their fans will do well to remember that.


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16 Responses to Squeaky bum time in Indian MMRCA competition

  1. TL 31 August, 2009 at 11:38 pm #

    What of the RFP for a new LCA engine, so far either the EJ200 or F414?

    If India is to produce the LCA in any reasonable quantity would it pay the price for two different engine types or seek economic frugality with a single type? I assume part of the MMRCA deal would include building of the engine locally.

    As for the choice of aircraft, I wonder how much this will depend on trust of the US. No strings attached with the French though… The Indians have the PAK-FA for 5g.

  2. Kinbin 1 September, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    If either IDS or LM had Sir A on their team, it would have been the ‘A’ team, with silverware to match as they leave the competition in the EPL in their wake.

    Sir A’s uncanny ability to sell the stars at their prime, scout the under-achievers, and coach them into new starlets to win more silverware is un-paralleled.

    But alas, that can never be the case for IDS nor LM. The Scotsman trumps the cowboys anyday!

    On a parallel note, it would be cheaper to win this campaign by snapping up a top flight UK or SA professional cricket club, and move their base into India. The company with this tactical move will most likely win the contest.

  3. Siva Govindasamy 1 September, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    Hey, you don’t mess with the cricket in India! And having Sir Alec in the team may not make a difference – I mean, the Scots are not exactly known for their aerospace engineering prowess!

  4. Siva Govindasamy 1 September, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Oh, the LCA will be powered by a single engine – either the EJ200 or the F414, They will not use both. It is just that in the early stages, the GE engines are used for testing. The operational aircraft will be powered by one or the other.

    No strings attached with the Europeans – be it the Typhoon, Rafale or the Gripen. The question is, really, capability I reckon.

  5. TL 1 September, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

    Hi Siva,

    I was thinking more would India buy/build locally 100 odd F414s for the LCA but not buy the F-18E/F/ and the EJ200 but not the Typhoon?

    TL

  6. Dave 2 September, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    here’d be strings attached to the Gripen. That aircraft has significant US technology content- most notably the engine. The RM-12 is a Swedish built F404 and the Gripen NG uses the F414- but there is more US content then that.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the Rafale will ultimately win- buying any US aircraft inevitably comes with strings attached. Frankly, the Indians have had enough of colonialism. I just don’t see them going for the Super Hornet of F-16IN unless the US drops some of its more intrusive restrictions.

    The Typhoon is way too expensive- so I doubt it’ll be picked. Also, given the recent dust-ups with Russia over price and timely delivery of previous purchases, I’d say the MiG is probably not going to be picked.

    The only aircraft that does deliver full tech transfer with no strings and a decent level of capability is the Rafale- which has alway been the great strengh of any French bid. Also the IAF has plenty of experience with Dassault built aircraft.

  7. Kinbin 2 September, 2009 at 9:30 am #

    @siva
    the competition, at this point, is not so much pitting performance at different op environment, but more of a pr exericse. Sir A’s credentials are good, and remains high on credit ratings.

    On cricket, as a national obsession, it would be the vendor’s trump card to make the air force team into a semi-professional entity (with ICP of course) that can take out the top tier clubs at ICC.

  8. Siva Govindasamy 2 September, 2009 at 10:33 am #

    It really would not make sense to have two engines for the LCA, i reckon. And I think they will want to separate the MMRCA from the LCA.

  9. Siva Govindasamy 2 September, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    Hey Dave, welcome to the discussion.

    Your points make sense, but I’m not so sure the Indian experience with the Mirage has been all that pleasant. They have had operational issues with the fighters, from what I hear.

    I still feel politics will play a big part in this contest, and that would mean the Europeans will be at a disadvantage compared to the US companies or the Russians.

    Also, the other question is how the fightes will compare vis-a-vis to what is being inducted in Pakistan and China. That will be the other big factor in this competition.

  10. Siva Govindasamy 2 September, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    If only the MMRCA competition were as straight forward!

  11. Dave 2 September, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    It’s true the Indian experience with the Mirage hasn’t been everything it could have been, but the same could be said of the Russian planes. Even the Su-30 has had numerous issues.

    Politics always plays a role. But it is precisely why I believe the French might have the advantage. There are multiple minor disputes with the Russians which are clouding the issue, granted the Indo-Russian relationship is strong- and probably always will be.

    The Indians are inherently distrustful of the Americans, often with good reason. Regardless of how warm relations get, I’m not sure the Indians are going to be comfortable with placing a large part of their fleet under US inspections etc. This is especially true given previous American behavior towards others. There will always be aspects to US foreign policy that will strike the Indians as neo-colonialist.

    If we talking strictly about capabilities- the two US entries have a clear edge. No one can match the avionics or weapons package the United States can offer. Arguably the Block II Super Hornet is the most capable entry.

    Now this last point will raise the hackles of European and Russians, but aerodynamic agility isn’t paramount anymore- not when factoring in HOBS missiles. Weapons like AIM-9X virtually guarantee a mutually assured destruction scenario in the WVR arena. Beyond Visual Range- the APG-79/AIM-120C-7 and D combo gives the Super Hornet the advantage. Take into account also that a clean Super Hornet is remarkably agile. I know this last point is contentious, but having talked to many USN pilots, I feel confident in the Rhino.

  12. Siva Govindasamy 2 September, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    An aerodynamic and agile Super Hornet? Hmmm, that must be an interesting creature. I hear it is very quiet too…

    Yes, the question will be if the Indians can overcome their inherent suspicion of the Americans. They’ve bought the C-130s and Poseidons, and that may be seen as enough of a sop to the Americans.

    If we exclude the Americans, then, I think the French might be in with a chance. The Typhoon does not appear to be running well in India, from what I hear. Then again, I could be wrong. It has been a few months since I went to India.

  13. Dave 2 September, 2009 at 4:37 pm #

    Yes, the Indians have bought the Poseidon and C-130, but those are not destined to be the backbone of India’s air combat capability. It a huge difference buying US hardware for this kind of mission.

    The Super Hornet gets a bad rap from aircraft enthusiasts- however, the Navy pilots love it. I was actually quoting a highly experienced USAF F-22 pilot from the 90th FS who cited a clean Super Hornet as a remarkably agile fighter.

    Keep in mind that the Super Hornet was designed to dominate a one circle fight and it can point its nose at incredibly low airspeeds. It is also stable at 50 degrees AOA- that’s from what USN Hornet pilots have told me. It’s not a fast airplane, but it does what it was designed to do very well.

    No offense, but I’ll take the word of those flying jets for a living over those who never flown a fighter in their lives.

  14. Siva Govindasamy 2 September, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    None taken! It is all a discussion, after all.

    Yep, that was exactly my point about the C-130s and Poseidons. By buying them, they have proven that they will buy American hardware, but the MMRCA is the big decision they have to make and there are plenty of other issues to consider for that.

    My discussions with both USAF pilots and non-USAF pilots bring up two points consistently about the Super Hornet – the naval pilots love it, but therein lies a problem too – it was designed as a naval fighter and not a land fighter. So they raise the question of how suitable it is for the air force. Too much attention can be paid to this point, but it is a genuine issue in the MMRCA competition (fairly or unfairly).

    I don’t think the maneouverability of the F/A-18 is gonna be that big an issue, and neither is its speed. It is a perfectly fine aircraft in its own right. But they question whether it is the best fit for the Indian requirements. Again, opinions vary on this issue as well.

    What we do know is that the MMRCA has moved on from being a requirement for a light fighter into one for a medium combat aircraft, and the question is what fits that role the best. The Super Hornet appears to fit that requirement but is it the best option when everything else – including political implications – are taken into consideration?

  15. Dave 3 September, 2009 at 2:40 am #

    The land-based vs. sea based issue may be over blow- we’re talking about the first five minutes and ant eh last five minutes of flight where that is really all that relevant. Sure, the naval landing gear, tail-hook, and internal structure adds some weight, but in the grand scheme of things, its not that big a deal. USN experience shows that the jet employs very well against all comers- the Block II with the AESA especially so.

    In my opinion, given the politics surrounding this competition, the best option for the Indians is the Rafale. The simple reason is no strings while maintaining a good solid capability- sure it may not be the best option in term of capability, but you don’t have a paternalistic hegemon looking over your shoulder- nor is the agreed price and delivery constantly reneged upon as it would be the case with the Russians. Rafale also offers the bonus that it can be adapted for carrier use if need be- assuming the Indians go that route.

  16. Siva Govindasamy 3 September, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    Paternalistic hegemon? I like your choice of words, mate. I don’t necessarily agree, but hey…

    But interesting point about Rafale being adapted for the navy as well. There is a requiremnt there, even with the impending arrival of the MiG-29s.

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