The chief of the Indian air force has defended the Narendra Modi government’s decision to obtain 36 Dassault Rafale fighters off the shelf, after terminating the long-running Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal.
Air Chief Marshall BS Dhanoa describes the 2016 decision to obtain the 36 aircraft as an “emergency buy” to shore up India’s falling number of fighter squadrons. The nation has 33 combat squadrons against an authorised strength of 42.5
“The MMRCA had reached an impasse due to irreconcilable differences between Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics with respect to additional man hours to be used by HAL in production of Rafale, the cost increase thereof, and higher non-recurring costs for new production facilities.”
Also at issue in the 126 fighter acquisition was which party, HAL or Dassault, would be responsible for jets produced by HAL under licence. Dassault was named the main contender for the requirement in 2012 after a long-running competition among leading fighter types.
Original MMRCA plans called for 18 aircraft to be produced in France, and 108 by HAL.
Dhanoa, speaking in a recent press conference to mark the 86th anniversary of the Indian Air Force, said that the impasse gave the air force three choices. These were to wait for HAL and Dassault to come to terms, reissue the request for proposals and delay the introduction of new jets by six years or more, or make an “emergency” buy.
“If we had gone for another aircraft besides Rafale, it would have delayed things another six years,” he says. “So, the government took a bold step and bought 36 aircraft. The immediate problem is solved, and we will have a high performance, high tech aircraft that will offset the capabilities of that adversaries have been acquiring over time.”
Subsequent to the MMRCA cancellation, New Delhi had a less refined requirement for 110 single-engined fighters, which limited the field to the Lockheed Martin F-16V and Saab Gripen E. As with MMRCA, this deal would have required most of the aircraft to be produced locally.
In April 2018, New Delhi abandoned this, and issued an RFI for 110 single and twin seat fighters, but this time allowing for twin-engined jets.
In his briefing, Dhanoa said that six parties replied to the RFI. These are likely to be the same contenders for the MMRCA deal: the Boeing F/A-18E/F Block III, Dassault Rafale F3R, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70, United Aircraft Corp MiG-35 and Saab Gripen E.
He added that an RFP will be issued. Given that the air force conducted such an extensive evaluation of the MMRCA contenders, the new competition should take less time.