India’s Mirage upgrade: a prelude to a Rafale MMRCA win?

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It looks as if India is serious about upgradingits Dassault Mirage 2000Hs to Mirage 2000-9 standard. This is a major upgradethat will affect most systems in the aircraft. The bill, estimated at $2.2billion, is staggering, working out to about $43 million an aircraft. One wondersif Indiawould be better off buying new aircraft. In his MMRCA report earlier this yearAshley Tellis pegged the flyaway cost of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (withAPG-79 AESA radar) at $60 million.

Anyway, the timing of the upgrade (first mooted in 2004) isinteresting, as it coincides nicely with the medium multi-role combat aircraft(MMRCA) shortlist that came out in April. This saw the Super Hornet, F-16INSuper Viper, Saab Gripen, and MiG-35 eliminated, creating a shortlist of theDassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.

For some time I have suspected a linkage between the MMRCAdeal and the eternally delayed Mirage upgrade. By linking the two separatepurchases, Indiawould be able to negotiate a better price for both. France, for its part, could offer a cut rate forthe Mirage upgrade provided Indiaguaranteed a decision favoring the Rafale, securing the first overseas victoryfor the type.

Remember, MMRCA could well go beyond the initial 126aircraft, with the IAF buying up to 200. Later this decade India will alsoneed a fighter for its new aircraft carriers – and the Rafale has proveditself 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 selectthe MMRCA winner in September, with the extended bids from Dassault andEurofighter to expire at the end of this year. Soon we’ll know. 

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