Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Take-off Wait

So finally, the long-awaited (and definitely hyped) request for proposal for the IAF's medium multirole fighter aircraft (MMRCA) is out. For us defence correspondents, who willingly frothed in the mouth in anticipation of what was ultimately simply the kick-start of a definitely prolonged procurement process, the release of the tender document has assumed large proportions. The hype had its effect in a way – in a clean break from the past, the Defence Ministry actually announced the release of the tender document in a press release. But it's out, finally, and that's what matters – the ball is, hopefully, rolling.

The 211-page document has taken a good four years to author. It has bounced to and from the Defence Ministry no less than 25 times according to one Ministry guesstimate, and has been scrutinized by the CVC, the Law Ministry, the industry ministry and a few other agencies. It has the real bite of the Defence Procurement Procedure 2006 and calls for a 50 per cent offset commitment, one with few parallels for its ambitiousness. Of course, it's also deep awareness by South Block that the MMRCA deal is quite simply one of the largest military aviation contracts in recent procurement history.

If I remember correctly, it was an interview that former Vice Chief of the IAF Air Marshal Ajit Bhavnani gave to FORCE magazine in late 2005 that set down the official and final list of aircraft that would receive the tender document. Up until that time, it had only been speculation. It was he who confirmed that the list would encompass the EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, the RAC MiG-35 Fulcrum-F, the Saab JAS-39 Gripen, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 60.

There's been enormous debate (including in the comments section of LiveFist) about who should rightly win. There's still the incredulity over the single engine-twin engine ambiguity. Then there's the huge cost discrepancies of the contenders (the Rafale, which ironically needs this deal more than any of the other contenders) emerges as the costliest choice, while the Typhoon already has detractors within the IAF. The MiG-35 raises demons of Russian reliability and life-cycle support, while the two American contenders are so called "political blackholes". The Gripen, many believe, is the sort of plane the IAF set out to acquire when it overreached itself and demanded 100-odd more Mirage-2000s. It's the so called "independent choice" politically – moreover, the Swedes have agreed to slap in whatever radars and sensors the IAF wants, so, as a colleague of mine mentioned recently, if the Gripen can be acquired with an American AESA radar and weapons and Israeli avionics, it would meet everything the IAF wants and still be cheaper by at least $6 million a piece than the next cheapest fighter.

Obviously, there is overarching consensus – notwithstanding Defence Minister AK Antony's repeated allusions to objective transparency – that the purchase decision will be a political one, and resoundingly so. Almost certainly. The number of views out there are astounding. The Editor of a well-known defence magazine recently said said the Gripen will be the last on India's list because South Block it is not in the least interested in an independent choice, even though the Gripen might well be the perfect choice. As an emerging power, Sawhney pointed out, India knows very well that this will have to be a political purchase.

Journalists on the defence beat have had a ring-side view of the stunning aggressiveness of the American pitch. Boeing and Lockheed Martin, quite reasonably, view this contract as their ultimate battle for a market that promises dividends far into the future. A little shaken by the twin assault, Moscow has wisened up and started talking business, though it's ill-timed tantrums over cost-escalations definitely wont help an already bruised view of Russian reliability in South Block's corridors. The French bagged the Scorpene deal, so it's unlikely such a large cookie will be passed their way this soon, especially for a fighter with no previous export experience. It's a brilliant cat's cradle of intentions, possibilities, motives that boggles. Yet there are too many who are absolutely sure. Some believe the F/A-18 Super Hornet is a clear frontrunner. After Boeing conveyed it's revised per unit cost for the MMRCA deal, it's attractiveness has gone up a few notches. The APG-79 AESA radar is still, of course, the biggest draw for Boeing. The F-16I Soufa would be a superb draw, but what about the stigma (Pakistan)? Say what you like, but these things matter and matter hard.

Last week, The Hindu reported that the LCA Tejas failed to impress at sea-level during test-flights from Arakkonam, performance stats that could introduce yet another delay in initial and final operational clearance. Meanwhile, there's clamour that Rs 42,000 crore is a sin to be paid for what are ultimately fourth generation aircraft. What about the PAK-FA? What about the professedly fifth generation Medium Combat Aircraft? These will all be endless debated as far as anyone can see, while the government takes its time.

These are the odd spikes that we see in what is ultimately a laborious and mind-numbing system. It's going to be very slow moving from here on out. So I don't think anyone should hold their breath for too long.


Anonymous said...

The MRCA deal is probably the best example how our nation is just only good at finding short term solution.
Lets take the argument about prevent drop in numbers & replacing Mig-21's
If the MRCA is meant to replace Mig-21,it means the numbers after the completion of MRCA deal will exactly the same as it is today! We are replacing!!
Now if it is meant as prevent numbers dropping which means the Mig-21 have to stay to make up the numbers! Brilliant!

We are spending 10 billion on saving foreign defense industry while our own defense industry is left to the dogs. The biggest problem facing DRDO is retaining/getting talents for the R&D which require good salary.Our government is ready to blow 10 billion to pay American workers in dollar but not ready to pay to retain people at DRDO.

The budget of LCA development so far is around 1 billion.Compare this to the acquisition budget. The MRCA stuff has been floating around for 7 years.Imagine even if we had invested 10-15% of the MRCA budget into LCA by trying to getting foreign help in areas we lack, would we have to go in for the MRCA?

Now the TOT thingi!
This is suppose to provide tech to our defense industry,which apparently is required now.By the time the TOT infrastructure is setup...the LCA development would have completed. So what was the need for tech infusion?
Okay now people might say tech like AESA etc...
Now here is the fun part.India is suppose to work with Russia for 5th gen aircraft. What would be the status of this project by the time this "tech" is TOTed? Would the Russian wait until we learn about F-18 avonics AESA by setting up TOT etc etc ?

Imagine this we would working on developing 5 gen aircraft while HAL will be setting up infrastructure to manufacture 4 gen aircraft! Amazing isnt't it?

Vinayak G M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vinayak G M said...

Dear Shiv-ji,

Any Newz regarding PAK-FA??????? Saw one article on Bharat-rakshak

Looks scary and like a bell ringing in the view of 126-200 mega MRCA deal which may happen in future with US .....

Mihir said...

Shiv, has the RFP been made public?

Abhiman said...

To first anon, I fully agree with your comment, "The MRCA deal is probably the best example how our nation is just only good at finding short term solution."

I can only say that the idea of so-called medium-weight aircraft, was only an excuse to avoid induction of Tejas as THE fleet augmentator. As proof, one may only appreciate the alcracity, the seriousness, the motivation and the ready allocation of funds for the MRCA deal---- in stark contrast with the lack of seriousness, co-ordination and criticism on the part of the IAF, for the Tejas.

As someone rightly mentioned in BR forum, that even the PAF can be credited with full co-ordination, interest and management of their JF-17 project. Not a semblance of that was seen vis-a-vis the IAF and Tejas.

History may be repeated with the PAK-FA getting voracious attention by the IAF, while the DRDO's swadeshi MCA getting a "file burial".


Abhiman said...

I also agree with the first anon that India is spending $10 billion to purchase foreign made planes, while DRDO is ignored. Such amounts spent on indigenous R&D would meet ALL the needs of the 3 services for the next few decades.

Only $1 billion was spent on Tejas. Funds like those earmarked for MRCA could have easily speeded it up, because not only is time money, but money is also time.

Sniperz11 said...


the RFP will not be released, and the competitors have to sign a non-disclosure agreement as well. This will (hopefully) prevent the release of any part of the RFP to third party sources.

Of Course, in all probability, it will find its way into the hands of our neighbours pretty soon.. its only 211 pages long, so it wouldn't take long to xerox. But dont expect any details to come out in public.

Anonymous said...

you fools the RFP is a commercially classified can it be made'll be guarded like hell....but there's one person who can manage it

Abhiman said...

The following are from today's news report :-

"Once the trials conclude in September 2008, IAF teams will be dispatched to the respective MRCA manufacturing countries to appraise the remaining weapon systems, a task expected to last till the year end or till early 2009.
Thereafter, the IAF would shortlist the MRCA in order of merit based on overall performance, open the commercial bids and begin negotiations on the lowest tender.

It can be questioned that if the MRCA is to be chosen based on least cost, then the Tejas may easily qualify to be the MRCA. It is true that the "overall performance and merit" will also be tested, but the question arises that if the IAF already has preconcieved notions about the entire spectrum of fighters ranging from Tejas-like Gripen to Flanker-type F-18, why wasn't the Tejas included in the selection process ? The Gripen is almost equivalent to the Tejas, and thus it is yet unclear why Tejas is not in the "sweepstakes".

The IAF probably already knows most of the specifications, but is recalcitrant to admit that Tejas is the equivalent of Gripen and that F-18-Typhoon-Rafale trio are very similar in range-payload performance to Su-30 MKI (except that they cannot maneuver at 8.5 g loaded with 8 ton warload, and cannot be fueled with a high-density fuel to extend their range >2000 kms; otherwise, they have No difference with Su-30MKI).

The article further states :-

"While the MoD believes the MRCA contract can be inked by 2012-14, the IAF, familiar with the ministry's cautious bureaucratic and hidebound procedures, foresee it taking much longer.

It does not anticipate the fighters joining squadron service before 2020-21. "

As it has been already discussed, by 2020, these fighters will begin their obsolesence and will be obsolete by the time (2030-32) all the 126 planes are built and inducted. Hence, this deal is needlessly expensive in time, money and resources. The funding, and time spent negotiating (over 1 decade) is not justified at all.

Thank you.

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, the following comments by some experienced members of Bharat-Rakshak forum about the MRCA are in my view, very valid and thought-provoking :-


2020 ? The PAK-FA would be ready by then,why would we need the MRCA ?

If they say they will complete the evaluation by 2009 and take another 10 years for the discussions ,by the time the MRCA ends up with us the MRCA tech will be obsolete.


What point is there if the fighters are going to join only in 2020? ..By 2020,the 5th-gen fighter will be ready in production (definitely going by Russian schedules for their Sukhoi concept) and will be superior in every respect than the wares being considered! I don't undersatnd the timeframe that is being bandied about,it defeats the very purpose of getting extra aircraft needed right now instead of 10+ years from now.By then,even the Aussies plan to induct all their JSFs and have one active squadron of UCAVs along with the JSF.

To save time,the IAF should just order more MIG-29OVTs (MIG-35),a vastly improved version of the MIG-29 already in service which is also being upgraded,for which there will be little controversy about the decision to buy another 80+,scrape together as many Mirage-2000s that they can from France,Qatar or wherever if possible and upgrade them (80+ MIG-35s and an extra 40+ Mirage-2000s to be upgraded) along with those Mirages in service.This should suffice for the current shortfall in numbers.The big bucks can then be happily spent on extra Su-30MKIs and the 5th-gen fighter and the LCA.

ets move on to pak-fa, and cancel this mrca rfp, we had this discussion long time back.. many of us would be dead by the time mrca lands in IAF.

Shankar :-
lets just order 200 more su-30s immediately and close the MRCA crap




But this comment by Raymond is by far the best, and hits the nail on its head :-

"So we will be flying MRCAs till 2050..when all major airforces have moved on to UCAVs/whatever...whats the big deal..we still fly the Mig-21s and Mig-23BNs now.. I say its keeping in with the tradition"