AERO INDIA: Boeing comment provokes combat aircraft debate

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Saab believes its Gripen IN design will make the shortlist in India's medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contest later this year, despite a contrary prediction made by rival bidder Boeing.

Speaking at Aero India, Kory Mathews, vice-president F/A-18 and EA-18G programmes for Boeing Military Aircraft, said he believed only three of the current six candidates would make the shortlist, and these would all be twin-engine designs.

"That's really a very surprising statement," says Eddy de la Motte, Saab's director Gripen India. "I'm pretty sure there's going to be one single-engine fighter in there as well."

The Swedish manufacturer has submitted a strong technical and industrial bid with a "responsible price" for the 126-aircraft deal, he says.

Lockheed Martin also challenges the Boeing official's assessment of the MMRCA battle.

"The request for proposals actually favours a single-engine aircraft," claims Orville Prins, vice-president Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, referring to New Delhi's focus on the life-cycle costs of its future fighter.

The company is offering its F-16IN "Super Viper" for the requirement.

"We believe this is the finest F-16 that would ever be built," says Prins. "We think it's the ultimate fourth-generation aircraft, with a fifth-generation technology bridge in it."

A key element of the company's bid is the availability of the Northrop Grumman APG-77 active electronically scanned array radar.

Lockheed's experience in setting up multiple foreign final assembly lines for the F-16 during the programme's history means it has "demonstrated that we can do this better than any other bidder," Prins claims.

Prins also rebuffed a suggestion that the Indian air force could scrap its MMRCA process entirely in favour of pursuing a deal for Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"All we have heard from the air force is that they remain absolutely committed to MMRCA," he says.

As well as the F-16, Gripen and Super Hornet, additional candidates for the more than $10 billion deal are the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and RSK MiG-35.