India’s MMRCA: Cut and Thrust

These are interesting times for India‘s Air Force. Somewhere in itscolonnaded Delhiheadquarters a massive team is poring over tens of thousands of pages about thesix fighters in the 126-aircraft MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft)competition.

Aside from the 6,000-7,000 pages each company provided – thecontenders are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Saab, Dassault, Eurofighter, and RSKMig – the IAF generated tons of data during the lengthy field trials of eachaircraft.

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An IAF official told me last week that the Air Force chieflikes to joke that the IAF could provide consulting service to othercountries on how to pick an airplane. The chief also, apparently, says cocktailparties are not as much fun: a nod to this person, or a smile to another, couldbe construed as an endorsement of a certain plane.

Who is winning? The fervid Indian press seems to throw up anew favourite every week. A discussion with anyone in the aviation sectorinevitably veers toward the  MMRCA. Everyonehas an opinion, everyone has a favourite, but nobody really knows.

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With $10 billion at stake the MMRCA deal is of tremendousimportance for each of the companies (and countries) involved in thebidding.  Indeed, the MMRCA could welldecide the future of certain programmes.

This was clear in my discussions with the manufacturers lastweek. In my journalism career I’ve rarely had interview subjects convey suchpassion about their wares. It was all tremendously informative, and in my view everyaircraft looks terrific.

But in the end there can be only one.

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