It looks as if India is serious about upgrading
its Dassault Mirage 2000Hs to Mirage 2000-9 standard. This is a major upgrade
that will affect most systems in the aircraft. The bill, estimated at $2.2
billion, is staggering, working out to about $43 million an aircraft. One wonders
would be better off buying new aircraft. In his MMRCA report earlier this year
Ashley Tellis pegged the flyaway cost of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (with
APG-79 AESA radar) at $60 million.
Anyway, the timing of the upgrade (first mooted in 2004) is
interesting, as it coincides nicely with the medium multi-role combat aircraft
(MMRCA) shortlist that came out in April. This saw the Super Hornet, F-16IN
Super Viper, Saab Gripen, and MiG-35 eliminated, creating a shortlist of the
Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.
For some time I have suspected a linkage between the MMRCA
deal and the eternally delayed Mirage upgrade. By linking the two separate
would be able to negotiate a better price for both. France, for its part, could offer a cut rate for
the Mirage upgrade provided India
guaranteed a decision favoring the Rafale, securing the first overseas victory
for the type.
Remember, MMRCA could well go beyond the initial 126
aircraft, with the IAF buying up to 200. Later this decade India will also
need a fighter for its new aircraft carriers - and the Rafale has proved
itself with the French air force and navy. An MMRCA win would represent serious jobs and prestige for France,
making a major price cut for the Mirage upgrade an attractive proposition. The upgrade's cost could end up being far below that staggering $2.2 billion figure.
Indian officials have reportedly set a timeline to select
the MMRCA winner in September, with the extended bids from Dassault and
Eurofighter to expire at the end of this year. Soon we'll know.