Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Israel and the MRCA

In the third week of April 2007, a small team from Israel's MoD and IAI (unannounced, undisclosed) met with a team at Vayu Bhawan and made a classified presentation on integrated fighter avionics and next-generation systems. On May 24, the same team (but with a representative each from Elta and Rafael) came back, and made another presentation. The first meeting was to make a pitch for a host of upgrade programmes that the IAF had asked the Israelis to come forward with possible proposals about. The second, and more interestingly, was to do with the 126 MRCA contract. It is now virtually certain that no matter which aircraft the IAF finally gets from the six-man tender, its brains (everything apart from the multimode radar) will be Israeli-developed and Israeli-built. This would include the complete avionics suite, tactical data and satellite communications systems, head-up display, helmet display, mission computer, digital map integrated warning systems and electronic counter measures (ECM) suites.

In September last year, after Lockheed-Martin said that its contender for the tender would be the heavily souped up and improvised Israeli F-16I Sufa, the Indian Air Force decided that it was time to evaluate Israeli systems. It didn't take them long to send a formal communication to the government in January this year, yielding that any MRCA would be best armed with Israeli avionics and mission systems. In February, I was leaked a photocopy of a page of that communication by a Ministry of Defence source, with most of the information whited out (!). But what remained were a few technical descriptions, subscripted by this telling line: "This would be optimal for IAF purposes in the medium to long term, as our own evaluations and industry reputations have pegged systems built by Israel as by far the most dependable and advanced in the world, more advanced than even comparable US systems which are possibly on offer." This, as you've no doubt guessed, is huge for Israel.

While it's also almost certain that the MRCA deal leans unabashedly towards the US (the delays in the RFP, some say, are for brinkmanship over the nuke deal, but also time bought to carefully engineer the QRs to suit the Americans) -- and assuming that this were true, then it quite simply boils down to the F-16I (the Block 50/52 and the Sufa use the same Northrop-Grumman AN/APG-68V9 AESA radar) and the F/A-18 Super Hornet. This has presented a strange sort of situation for American diplomats. Last year, former US Secretary of Defence from the Clinton Adminstration William S. Cohen (and now a business consultant in D.C) inaugurated Lockheed-Martin's office in Delhi. When asked if he backed the F-16 for the deal, he was completely stumped. And to the hilarious discomfiture of the Lockheed-Martin people, he had to affirm right there on stage that the F/A-18 and F-16 were both "first class aircraft". This didn't go down to well with LM, I'm assuming.

Conversely, both Lockheed-Martin and Boeing complain in private that since they're compatriot firms in the tender, it's difficult for political diplomats to push a single one -- that would be grossly inappropriate. This, even though the US Navy chief of staff recently threw his weight singularly behind the Super Hornet. It would have been a whole lot easier if there was just one American contender. But Boeing, which has had a huge and lucrative history in India, could not be ignored and was therefore allowed to elbow itself into the tender long after RFIs from the others had been received and analysed. Either way, it appears that the IAF wants the government to be firm about the Israeli connection.

India's pronounced and abrupt affinity for Israeli arms over the last few years is a political phenomenon that has a lot of reasonable people obsessed with the direction it threatens to take. Indian commitments to Israeli weapons are enormous, by all standards -- those reports about Israel having emerged as India's second largest arms import source are profoundly true, not in terms of what's been delivered (precious little so far, barring some assault rifles and a few radars), but what's in the pipeline. In December last year, I did an interview with Prof. Yitzhak Shichor of the University of Haifa's Department of East Asia Studies, someone who has written widely on the fresh new Indo-Israeli diplomatic complexion. He said something quite interesting at the time. I'll end with what he told me:

"I am becoming more and more convinced that US attempts to block Israel's arms sales are necessarily, directly or exclusively related to China. There was a piece in Ha'aretz last December (2005) about US attempts to torpedo a large-scale arms deal between Israel and South Korea (valued at $1.25 billion). In other words, US commercial interests are very much at play. If this is true, Israel will find it more difficult to sell arms to India in the future. The deals already signed with India came against the background of the forced retreat from the Phalcon deal with China and at that time it would have been inconceivable to block Israel's military relations with India as well. Now the situation is different. After the forced cancellation of the Phalcon deal with China (as well as the Harpy episode), some experts said that this would undermine Israel's arms sales prospects worldwide since prospective customers would think twice before turning to Israeli arms. Reality proved otherwise. Over the last few years Israeli arms sales still maintained an annual peak of over $3 billion. The loss of the China market is certainly a blow but the India market is at least an equal substitute and there are additional markets such as Turkey and West European countries. Exporting arms is essential for Israel's defense industrial establishment for its survival. Israel exports 75% of its military production, the highest share in the world. The key to this success is technological and scientific innovation which, in certain types and models, outranks the US."

(Photo Copyright Yuval Lapid)


Anonymous said...

The best thing about Israel like the French is that they are pure businessman. They take money deliver stuff,virtually anything under their belt. No strings attached.
Israel as nation is dependent on the survival of it's defense industry. They pump the sale money back in to their R&D.

And frankly speaking MRCA is already a joke. The point about chossing F-16 or F-18 doesnot even arise as the IAF hasn't even decided what "type of aircraft" it wants. It has gone from "replacing Mig 21" to "more powerful than Su-30".

And if the American system is chosen do you think they will allow non-American system integration? Not in the dreams. Israeli avonics will only come in to picture if it is non-American and non-French,non-European... that leaves Mig-35...
Add to all this wonder why India is participating in 5G program with Russia?
Again..as I said MRCA is a big joke.

By the way APG 69 is NOT AESA.


Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, I may disagree with your views. Firstly, a mere presentation may not be indicative of a definite Israeli avionics suite; such presentations have been made by many manufacturers including Boeing and Lockheed Martin also.

Secondly, we may not "jump" to conclude that the delay in the finalization of the Indo-Us deal is necessarily means that the choice of MRCA will be American (because India seeks to leverage bargaining position etc.). It is just "2'n'2 together" kind of gossip.

These are potentially multi-billion dollar deals, in which requirements, long-term benefits and most importantly their shaping of Indian energy and defence requirements upto half of this century are taken into account. It will be anathema for India to accept an NPT-like deal regardless of IAF's preference for any aircraft. It will not be acceptable for the IAF to operate newer and hitherto unknown types of planes, regardless of the outcome of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Anyway, Tejas shall be the ideal MRCA, and it already shall have the Litening targeting pod and Elta phased-array radar in it, both of which are of Israeli origin. This already makes the Tejas a formidable platform, and also fairly satisfies the foreign "urge" of the IAF (because any Indian avionics would be naturally unacceptable to them).

Thank you.

Mihir said...

If what Vivek Raghuvanshi has reported about the Mirage-2000 upgrade is true, the F-16I might be what the IAF is looking for...

Anonymous said...


not really. the IAF has a very neg view of the F-16 from all the exercises. they know its weaknesses well.against the MKI, its been thrashed.
so its either the f-18 or mig-35. gripen is too light and full of us stuff anyway (buy american itself), f-16 like above, rafale and ef too expensive for chindi chor india.

Anonymous said...

why dont you just buy some more of these Su-30 MKI of the shelf and end the story

Mihir said...

It is a maintenance-intensive beast. And requires two crew members.

Teews said...

Then wouldn't it also remove F/A-18E/F from the contenders?

Mihir said...

The F-18F, most likely. But no one has made a statement about crew, yet. This is just my thinking.

Teews said...

The only single pilot, two engine arcrafts in the fray are Rafale, Mig-35 and Eurofighter.

I can't see how IAF will want another dual crew aircraft when they already have Su-30MKI.

Abhiman said...

teews, I agree with your opinion. The F-18, Rafale and Eurofighter have max. external load and maximum range equal to, or even greater than the Su-30MKI.

All 3 of these fighters have max. load of between 8-9 tons (Su-30MKI has 8 tons), and maximum range of 1,400-1800 kms (Su-30MKI has 1,500 kms).

The ONLY advantage that Su-30MKI has over these 3 fighters is that upon being fuelled with high-density fuel, the max. range of Su-30MKI increases to 3000kms (and which would hardly be used). Also, the operating costs of the trio would be far far higher than the Su-30MKI, for a given mission profile.
Thus, the decision to include them in the MRCA tender is unclear.

The medium-weight competitors :- The Gripen is nearly exactly the same size, weight and has similar performance as the Tejas (max. weight, range etc).Thus, if IAF can consider Gripen to be suitable enough to be MRCA, then Tejas can too be sent one RFP.
The F-16 has a max. payload between 6,500 kgs---only 1000 kgs more than the Tejas & Gripen---and same range as Tejas . MiG-35 also has max. external load of 5,500 kgs.

Thus, Tejas is "tailor-made" to be ideal MRCA contender in terms of range, payload (equal to Gripen), immunity from sanctions, and readily available tech. support.

It may be unclear as to why a nation that is building a full-fledged 4th generation fighter is "scouting" for foreign fighters. It is because of the misnomer of "Light" Combat Aircraft. The term "Light" is only in name---its payload and range capacity are equal to Gripen because of the utilization of 45% composites in its structure.

Thus, it may be possible that vested interests in the IAF, political establishment and arms-dealers is at work in the MRCA contract. Keeping aside consideration as an MRCA, the Tejas is not even being sent an RFP. Its first squadron is being packed off South, to fight the toy "air-force" of the LTTE.

It is being "throttled" even outside the MRCA domain.

Thank you.

Teews said...

Abhiman, please spare us all with your continuous rhetorical "LCA for MRCA" propoganda. Everyone knows where you stand on this.

If LCA is that good then IAF is not a fool to disregard it. They are more professional than you are giving them credit. LCA will form a part of our defence squadrons.

Tomorrow you might say why Su-30MKI at all when we have LCA. Please understand that each one has a role to play. Let us first get the LCA through the IOC, let the MRCA be evaluated and then it will be decided who comes in and who goes out.

Your constant barrage of "in my opinion" is exactly that, your opinion. By now everyone in the world knows what your opinion is. And your opinions are based on the public information that are available to us. Unless you are in the defence industry your conclusions are inconclusive. So please spare us.... My humble request.

Shiv Aroor said...

teews: LOL! but hey, let abhiman spew his stuff here. this is a democratic commenting space!

Teews said...

I don't have problem with someone commenting whether it is right or wrong. But when someone every alternate day writes a one page ranting of "LCA for MRCA" propoganda, it is the most irritating thing.

Abhiman's effort is wasted here, rather he should knock on the doors of defence and politicians doors himself and ask why not "LCA for MRCA". Rather than on the forum although every single person has explained to him the difference between an operational Grippen and yet to complete IOC Tejas.

Abhiman said...

teews, I do not present (or "spew") my opinion for argument's sake, or for the "fun in arguments", but rather it is a genuine concern.

That the IAF does not consider it is not because they have "seen something which we don't", but due to age-old solidly etched views that the LCA is a "light" fighter and thus unsuitable for an MRCA.

I do not argue to be the proverbial prodigy, or one "who has seen the light", or whatsover, but the argument that I present is solely rooted in sound reasoning and careful analysis. I may reiterate that I do not wish to take credit, or gain popularity by way of this so-termed "barrage of arguments".

Thank you.

Teews said...

Abhiman, you don't get it. I am not accusing you of being right or wrong. I am not accusing you of trying to grab attention. What I am accusing of is that you don't move forward. You are like a stuck record. It is very irritating and rude to all of us. Why? Because you think we are stupid and we don't get it and hence you have to repeat it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over ....

Now do you get me? If you do, please stop. But I know what you what you are going to reply...

Indian Pakistani peace talks said...

Guys it is going to be the Israeli Sufa the F 16 variant with the GE F414 engines and souped up Israeli war suite.Don't be surprised if the numbers climb beyond 250 and production lines do come up in India.
This development will complement the Tejas development as well!

Indian Pakistani peace talks said...

Well why not the Israeli Sufa. The Yanks are not reliable, the Russians don't match up, the French play hard to get, and that leaves the Sufa.Here the Americans would be only too willing to let India take the production lines of F16 , the Israel's would give us something that will kick the butt of the Pakistani's for another 10 years at least !!!
It is a formidable platform.The F16 has been very dependable and with the Israeli eSuite in tow,the Air over S.E Asia would be India's.