The MMRCA hustle!

With the kind of stakes involved (upto $16 billion) in India's medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition, it isn't remotely surprising that there are so many different stories wafting around defence circles in the last few days. From shock eliminations to uncomfortable queries about "full platform demonstrability" to whispers about South Block's corporate shakedowns from six of the world's biggest best known military aircraft makers.

The official update from the mandarins at Vayu Bhawan is that the technical evaluation of bids was completed in December and the report has been forwarded to the Defence Ministry without any eliminations. No eliminations have apparently been recommended in the report. In the second-half of April, flight evaluations will commence and go through hot weather trials and cold weather trials towards the end of 2009. This is as it stands on paper. And everyone knows that in a big defence buy, the stuff on paper amounts to zip. You don't enunciate strategic or political considerations on paper in a tech-eval report.

It began with a news report about the Saab Gripen being eliminated in the tech-eval downselect. It turns out this isn't the case, and the company has been notified of flight evaluation schedules. There's another rumour out that the Dassault Rafale has been unconditionally booted from the competition for being just too damned expensive. A third rumour talks of how the IAF has recommended the immediate rejection of the EADS Typhoon because its air-to-ground capabilities are not promising as yet. A fourth scenario, and one shared with me by a friend on the beat, is that the MMRCA contract has already been jacked up to 200 aircraft -- and this will include a heavy-light mix of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets and Saab Gripens. Yet another says that there really only are three aircraft in the fray -- the Super Hornet, the Lockheed Martin F-16IN and the UAV MiG-35, but that the single-engined contender (the F-16IN) stands to win. We'll wait this one out, huh?

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