Sunday, August 01, 2010

The MMRCA Competition: What Next?

Two days ago, I received a mysterious phone-call from a Russian journalist who claimed to have very reliable information that the Indian Air Force and the Defence Ministry had chosen the MiG-35 in the $12-billion medium multirole combat aicraft (MMRCA) competition, and had communicated as much to both MiG chief Mikhail Pogosyan as well as UAC president Alexey Fedorov. Cut. A well-known senior Indian defence analyst, who junketed off to Farnborough this month, assured me just before he left, that the Typhoon was going to sail through to the finish line -- I'd stopped listening by this time, but he said something about "knowing people in the know". Cut.

There's a lot of stuff swimming around out there about the MMRCA, and it's all tantalizing. Rumours of first blood.

At this point in the game, it's common for vendors to pick journalists' brains about what they're hearing. Well, what they're hearing is a lot of noise. A carefully crafted cacophony of permutation, combination and possibility -- some delectably elegant, some morbidly unthinkable. The campaign chiefs from Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, for example, have frequent briefings in Delhi -- thinly veiled opportunities for them to get exchange notes with reporters about where things stand on the MMRCA, what the rumours are, what they're picking up from "people in the know". All of the rumours are tantalizing in their potential to create massive upheaval -- political, technological, doctrinal, what have you. And in the run up to what is expected to be a downselect this year -- but what is also likely to not be a downselect at all -- I thought I'd put down everything I've heard in the last six three months. The structure, I should say right away, does not indicate a descending order of probability. And yet, it might.

For the purpose of clarity, let me state that the six competitors are the RAC-MiG MiG-35, the Boeing F/A-18IN Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, the Saab Gripen IN and the Lockheed-Martin F-16IN Super Viper.

SCENARIO 1: NO DOWNSELECT: All six contenders make the cut. Commercial negotiations begin with all six companies, and bam, they hand it to one. Right through the field evaluation tests (FET), there have been rumours of scrubs, snags, even hearsay that four of the six failed the test leg at Leh. All six competitors independently assured the press that their horses had come through beautifully and that all rumours of climb-rate disappointments and payload inadequacies were malicious nuggets passed around by "vested interests". Can't think of one person who isn't a vested interest, actually. If all six aircraft dodge the "downselect", it'll mean the FET gave the IAF nothing it could really work with in terms of defining what it really wants to go with. Always bear in mind the supremely incomparable airplanes the IAF is working to compare.

SCENARIO 2: NO DOWNSELECT, BUT PREFERENCE INDICATED: All six contenders make the cut, but are presented in the IAF's report to the MoD in descending order of preference. Best of both worlds -- everyone makes it past the first guillotine.

SCENARIO 3: THE NEGATIVE RECOMMENDATION: An interesting one. The IAF submits its report to the MoD along with a list solely indicating the aircraft it definitely doesn't want. The government then takes a political decision among the ones the IAF doesn't mind operating.

SCENARIO 4: SINGLE OUT: IAF chief PV Naik says the MMRCA field evaluation trials make for an international yardstick on how fighters should be evaluated the world over – a masterpiece of a testing templace. Most people believe him, because they’re still trying to figure how a disparate line-up of aircraft can be meaningfully compared with a result-oriented focus. Many were shocked when Boeing elbowed in the Super Hornet into the MMRCA competition way back when the Mirage-2000-V was still in contention and widely believed to be the signature platform for the MMRCA. Things have changed drastically since. This scenario suggests that the IAF has come round to wanting a twin-engine platform. So goodbye F-16IN and Gripen IN. Also, the possibility of a war of the Eurocanards -- the Rafale vs Eurofighter.

SCENARIO 5: KEEP IT REAL, KEEP IT MEDIUM: An old scenario that’s more wishful thinking than anything else. There’s nothing “medium” about the Typhoon, Rafale and Super Hornet. So the downselect pushes forward only the MiG-35, the F-16IN and the Gripen IN.

SCENARIO 6: GRIPEN, MIG OUT: The downselect eliminates the Gripen IN and the MiG-35. The former, because it’s Swedish (and woe betide any government that ever buys anything Swedish ever again). The rumour goes that the government has expressly instructed the IAF not to allow the Gripen past the FET phase. The latter because its Russian, and there’s a limit to the whole eggs in one basket thing.

SCENARIO 7: NO OP AESA? GOODBYE!: Only the F-16IN and the F/A-18IN make it because they’re the only two contenders with fully operational AESA radars (the NG APG-80 and the Raytheon APG-79 respectively). The others are work in progress, and the IAF doesn’t want to take a chance. That the IAF has been super-impressed by both American AESAs doesn’t hurt.

SCENARIO 8: TYPHOON OUT: A nightmare scenario for EADS, considering the weight of its pitch. This scenario suggests the Typhoon is ejected from the competition as a result of deficient air-to-ground performance, and that all promises aren’t worth the cost of the airplane.

And these are just eight possible scenarios. I haven’t mentioned the obvious permutations. It’s going to be a yahtzee. Will keep updating this post as I hear more. And, of course, feel free to comment with more scenarios if you’ve heard any.


Anonymous said...

let me add two more :

scenario 9 : SAAB promises full technology transfer (excluding the radar and the engine - which are not theirs ). promises to co-fund and co-develop AMCA. and since much water has flown down the ganga after the bofors scandal and since india is technology hungry at this point , they will go for it.

scenario 10: russia promises the moon including the deep technology transfer of the whole plane including the new AESA radar and engine. a sincere promise this time unlike the past snags. :D
india can't refuse.

since the order means a lot to both SAAB and MIG - in my opinion moon is not unlikely .

and i have a feeling that this MMRCA is actually even bigger than it looks.
india talks about two front war - which needs number. so it is likely that they will not stop at 126 but will go for 200.
indian navy has shown interest in these planes and they intend to have 200 fighters by 2020. it is likely that they will buy 100 of whatever IAF buys

Anonymous said...

by the way , will the tech evolution report of IAF be made public?

amit said...

F-18 or F-16 will make the cut because Mr.manmohan is pro american.
(remember P-8 ,C-17 and C-130J.)

Anonymous said...

you should list all the rumors however far fetched.
if nothing else it will be an entertaining read.

mirza said...

Other scenario

1 Nuclear deal (f18/16)
2 Avoiding Mix veg (Typhoon/Gripen)
3 Old pal Hidden Help (Mig)
4 blocking More weapon 4 pak frm France (Rafale)

My two cent goes Rafale

Chanakya said...

Our best bet is a Eurocanard
Trust me
Mig-35- Not in service, too many Russian planes and not sure it has the lowest RCS,
The teens- Very risky, Porkis already operate F-16s , and I'm unimpressed by the performance of the Hornet.
Gripen-As suggested by Shiv,no Govt will buy Swedish,

The EF and Rafale are excellent birds,(with the Rafale as the more suitable candidate) They may be expensive to purchase, but the cost of ownership will be less, and there's also the incentive of a new political partnership with the European consortium.

Anonymous said...

Funny, on the scenario 5 "keep it real, keep it medium", the MiG-35 is still in whereas the lighter Rafale isn't ^^

Just to put some light on this light debate.

Anonymous said...

finally ,the bombing truck is more likely in IAF

Nishant Bhatnagar said...

Hi, It was intresting to read through these senario's:
Few more will play the part like; Strategic & Long Term Partnership; Which firm is ready to help India build it's own engine (sorry, about Kaveri's present situation); ASEA Radar Technology and off course what finally Indian Government decides few inputs will be from FET results :)! I think it will between French Rafale and US Super Hornet F-18s. Rest Time will tell but whatever it is make it fast as IAF squadorn numbers are dropping.

Ricky said...

Well MMRCA isnt about India anymore, the one who will win will get a major economic boost! So its obvious that rumours will be tracked in our radars as the competitors will try their very best to churn out their beloved birds!!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but that's more hypothesis than rumors on who may be in and who may be out following FET. We shall see, I trust IAF for making wise recommandations on their best candidate(s) based on technical capabilities.

Anonymous said...

studied speculations :).. interesting read but..

Jaguar said...

What about the geo political one? America and Russians knock each other out due to over dependence given current orders. Gripen NG stays the dark horse cause it is selling a plane that comes into operation in 2014 while the rest have the latest vintage of 1994 when they first flew. But the French are the leading contenders because they always were. Remember, the French are not talking to anyone, including journalists. So the IAF gets what it wants: A French plane which is resistant to pressures from both the French and the Russians and has no overall dependence unlike the Gripen with its yank engine. The Typhoon stays close to the French as option 2 cause, apart from the European balance, its better because it has been sold to a few countries.

Anonymous said...

@Shiv in all your scenarios you missed RAFALE any reason is it out by all means?Between if we buy USA hardware this it'll be the saddest thing to do.So finger crossed let's believe MOD will agree to what Airforce wants

Fishbed said...

Scenario whatever..
No - Mig 35 - Considering money spent in buying Russian Mig 29K and future PAK FA.
No - F-16/18 - Considering money spent in buying P-8, C-17and C-130J.
No - Gripen - They can't offer Engine tech, the most crucial in terms of India's future ambitions.
Yes - Typhoon - Latest tech. New Euro political partnership.
Yes - Rafale - Latest Tech. Blocks sale of weapons to Pak. Capable Navy fighter if IN is interested in future.

Anonymous said...

and how did this post help clear any air i still don't understand. best of luck

Shiv Aroor said...

this post doesn't intend to "clear the air". please read the full post and the intro.

Anonymous said...

Shiv,every1 knows this deal isnt only for d birds but it includes tot,lifetime spare support,crew training,help in new tech. Development,improved relationship,production line establishment in,its a fully package deal we r about to make!!which out of these can make it?whose proposal is best overall?all comments most wellcome.

Prashant said...

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CheckOut !

Ra said...

Looking in to overall scenario presented with various ifs and buts, the strategy may emerge, so as to depend upon the historical beaten track or on the proven line of reliability, which may exclude any new experiments and the risks involved therein.

It may turnout to be either 126 Mig35 + 74 Rafale
126 Rafale + 74 Mig35 depending upon their overall price tags.

I think this kind of arrangement may be able to suffice all kinds of projected technological and capability gaps.

As a choice, Mig35 can be selected only when Russians agree to incorporate the superior French and Israeli avionics as in case of Su-30MKIs .

Actually all other aircrafts are equally good in some or other respects, but purchasing them may need also to purchase Octopus Paul for predicting their behaviors through daily forecasts. Lol...

praneetbajpaie said...

Shiv, I would like to ask for your opinion on this one. Which aircraft should we buy and why? Please, a reply is awaited.

Anonymous said...

I agree with amit@5:23
It will definitely be an american aircraft. For sure.

Anonymous said...

Noone wants the Rafale for a reason: it sucks. It's underpowered, it's radar is useless compared to the teen series or even the Typhoon, it has a light payload, and it has lower tech suite than the Typhoon or the latest teen-series. Did I mention it's just as expensive as the other two for half the performance? Yea, that's a no-go. The Shornet is the best bet considering it's amazing payload capabilities (bombtruck), otherworldly radar (compared to the rest), superb engines, and proven platform status. If the Americans offered some sort of ToT, it would be a done deal, no questions asked. From a pure performance perspective, one could argue it even has the Typhoon beat.

Anonymous said...

MiG-35 offers, without a shadow of a doubt, the most bang for buck. India also has a lot of positive experience with MiG-29s and also infrastructure for them. The only reason I can see against MiG-35 is dependance on a single supplier for nearly all of their modern fighter fleet, but with full technology transfer this isn't a problem anymore.

Anything but a MiG-35 win would come as an utter surprise to me.

Anonymous said...

Anon @10.06 pm seems to be a true expert... not sure the IAF will share his views on Rafale, which are rather...outdated !

gossipking0104 said...

@ Ra.. lol.. it is indeed a good idea to encourage octopus Paul to come out of retirement and shed some light as to who will win the MMRCA competition.. my 2 cents goes to 126 Mig 35 + 74 Typhoons..

Sudip Das ( said...

Dear Shiv,

Kindly elaborate on the following :

i) Life cycle cost will be considered to evaluate the price bids, then how can MIG-35 qualify

ii) IAF chief says that the evaluation process can be used as a template for fighter aircraft evaluation: By what logic both single and twin engine fighters qualify in the same tender. If both qualifies then one is forced to believe that the specification are general and everyone can qualify

iii) If GRIPEN qualifies and India decides to buy the same then what happens to LCA . Kindly compare the specification of GRIPEN and LCA , THERE IS HARDLY any difference

Anonymous said...

The "Merchants of Death" are spending good money on psy warfare and on journalists.

Suddenly so many specialists have emerged out of no where not knowing even the aft of the aircraft !

Good going guys !

Avi said...

My Opinion based on all the scenarios is to go for the MiG35. Considering the commonality with the MiG29 and the IAFs experience with the already existing 60+ birds this would surely be the best bet.

MiG35s with the RD33OVT make the A/C super maneuverable which is needed for the Dogfight considering our great neighbours (Porkis and Chinkis). Not only is the MiG-35 the only super maneuverable aircraft amidst MMRCA contenders, the Russians are ready to package it with long range weapons they have never offered before. These include "long-range weapons to attack targets without entering the adversary's air defense zone"

I am not very sure about whether the full ToT would happen, but Russians have promised to share the Know-how of AeSA radar and also if they can get the Engine technology, it would be the biggest win.

Anonymous said...

Unless unkil agrees to

1) Outside EUMA, no CISMOA...
2) License manufacture of EPE engines in India
3) Open source radar

stay away from Shornet and f-16. If Manmohan still pushes that then he is Naive to the point of treason. We can always repay for 123 with buying other stuff.

IAF may be impressed with their aesa but still there is no use of a uber-top hardware that only works during exercises but may or may not work on the D-day due to pre-requisite blessings of unkil and wide-spread kill-switches.

Years ago the turk invader Timur,the Lame immediately descended down from the Elephant when he found out it has No reins to control by the rider. Hope IAF does not make the mistake of opting for flashy aesas and planes outside its control.

Anonymous said...

India wants a lot more than an airframe/avionic/engine/life time maintenance. It wants in on the intricate supply web that connects the Western Military Industrial Complex - which BTW now includes the Russian forces too to a not insignificant extent. It wants this deal to first take it several steps beyond the Su-30MKI where it is the systems integrator and chief contractor for subsystems. This time India wants to go beyond basic avionics (where it has mastered controls, but needs to get its teeth into Attack/Nav/EW/ECM/ECCM) and propulsion. Where its need will first drive customization, then indigenous research. Next the IAF is no longer the only buyer of combat airframes, the IN is going to be very soon the biggest naval aviation customer in the world after the USN. The IN is already planning a Naval Flight Academy (like NAS Pensacola) and a test facility like Pax River. Capt.Maolankar, IN is, for those who did not notice, the chief test pilot for the IN. In five years' time we will be talking about the IN Aviation like we talk about the IAF. Just as USN's aviation fleet is bigger than others' AFs, IN plans to be the biggest naval aviation force between Suez and Brisbane. V. aggressive power projection is planned. For those who missed it the IN and IAF recently conducted an eight hour long airborne attack mission vectoring aircraft from about 8 different locations to the Bay. Already IN is talking about the F35, and is working v.hard to leap ahead on carrier aviation capability. So vendors are looking at a new induction of 200-250 airframes, which will ensure India's combat air assets are qualitatively and quantitatively superior.

Dilemma said...

IMO, the following aircraft will make the shortlist:
1) Super Bug - MoD would like to keep atleast one American aircraft in the row. So to make other competitors realize they need to come up with an AESA radar asap. Also, it reiterates the point that the plane needs to be a bomb truck first and fighter second.

2) Rafale - The Rafale is actually a really capable aircraft that has a great payload, great avionics and decent maneuverability. The Rafale is my favorite as it is the best package of all, ideal for the MMRCA (full ToT, no fear of sanctions, great payload, great range, great avionics, decent cost and a promising future of upgrades, AESA to be put into production this year)

3) EFT - MoD will keep this in the race as it would not like to upset EADS just by relegating them from the shortlist as they are in the fray for the LCA engine as well as the LCA AESA radar partner. Not to mention it has a great future ahead as many countries operate it.

4) Gripen NG - The only reason why the MoD will keep this in the race because of its low operational and per piece cost, they're ready to integrate whatever the system IAF wants them to add. Even though Sweden will not offer any political leverage, it will make other competitors reduce their costs and/or integrate whatever systems the IAF wants.

Why the Super Viper & Mig 35 wont make the shortlist:
The F-16 is the most evolved and maybe the best contender regarding capabilities. But the fact that its main users the USA, Israel and other NATO countries are looking to replace it with the F35 will not be good in the long term. Yes spare parts will be available for a long time but there will be no scope left for future upgrades.
Coming to the Mig 35, it seems to be the least capable aircraft of them all except for the TVC. Also, Mig 35 seems to be more of a A2A fighter which the IAF doesn't need. A2G comes first, A2A comes later.

Anonymous said...

At least one scenario is out - DRDO claims that they can give IAF their own version of MMRCA and better than these aircrafts in next three years

the way they scuttled 155mm !

Ra said...

Anonymous said...@2:57 AM
Unless unkil agrees to

IAF may be impressed with their aesa but still there is no use of a uber-top hardware that only works during exercises but may or may not work on the D-day due to pre-requisite blessings of unkil and wide-spread kill-switches.

Years ago the turk invader Timur,the Lame immediately descended down from the Elephant when he found out it has No reins to control by the rider. Hope IAF does not make the mistake of opting for flashy aesas and planes outside its control.

That is why I love Tejas in-spite of its difficulties.

NJS said...

I strongly believe F-18 will be selected by technically / politically ( pressure from US). even though Typhoon has same kind of pressure from four nations it has only second chances .
in my view india will go for 126 nos F-18 + 63 nos may be mig35 to cool our old friend russia .

deepak said...

the iaf has the reputation of a lethal air force because it operates such a variety of specialized air crafts..nothing bad if we go for a combination..even if it costs us..our enemies wouldn't like it vote goes for Mig 35(70) + typhoon(70)..if they could think of more than 126..

Anonymous said...

TO SHIV AROOR , for past 1 year m following you man , u jus simply rocks ... Da way u presents things r so beautifully ,da way u xplain without jeoparding official secrets... I think becoz of U good people many other defence blogsite nd forums r thriving ... Shiv i hv special request regarding information on ARJUN MK2 and LCA MK2 ... Thankin U

Anonymous said...

Out of the six, I feel that each fighter comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. However, Gripen has one major advantage - it was designed to operate from shorter runways and hence can be operated from roads. This line is directly from Wikipedia.

"Accordingly, among the requirements from the Swedish Air Force was that the Gripen fighter should be able to land on public roads near military stores for quick maintenance, and take off again. As a result, the Gripen fighter can be refueled and re-armed in ten minutes by a five man mobile ground crew operating out of a truck, and then resume flying sorties."

Anonymous said...

When one considers the life-cycle costs, the Mig aircraft obviously have an edge. Their engines and avionics can be assembled, tested and maintained by HAL, because of their prior experience with Russian aircraft. Either ways, for diplomatic and other reasons, it will serve IAF and GOI well to stick to their guidelines for technological evaluation and desist from giving a geo-political tint to the contract.

Anonymous said...

Worst Case Scenario: IAF, MOD and Politico Babus end up selecting and agreeing on a Bird and actually ordering it.

This will mean lost jobs for half the defence journos worldwide plus total loss of timepass value of web warriors. That would be a nightmare scenario.

I dread to think about the websphere world when MMRCA comes up with a selected bird.

Cecx Fable and Gas

Anonymous said...


The Eurofighter and Mig-35 aren't first-cut, though I doubt either is the final selection, and the Hornet and Rafale never had a chance. None of these four have superior performance over the Migs India is already building, only advanced technology. The Rafale and Hornet coming at extremely high cost.

By continuing to fly the Eurofighter and Mig-35, India can test the possible capabilities of domestic, technology-enhanced Mig-29s. They can build a better version of the Mig-35 themselves with tech-sharing gained from more sophisticated aircraft.

The only two aircraft close to filling India's need for a mass-produced, light multirole are the Saab and Falcon. The big differences between the two are engines and tech-sharing, both favoring Saab and eliminating the Falcon.

I voted the Hornet, Rafale, Falcon first-cut and think the Gripen will be the final selection.

Anonymous said...

Blending the total buy between Mig35 and Typhoon where either one could 126 and other 74 is still the best option that:
-fits the bill,
-keeps per average plane cost optimum
-brings something new(EF) and
-still keeps strategic independence.

Anonymous said...

Blending the total buy between Mig35 and Typhoon where either one could 126 and other 74 is still the best option that:
-fits the bill,
-keeps per average plane cost optimum
-brings something new(EF) and
-still keeps strategic independence.

Anonymous said...

I do not know about the options but I know the outcome
1. Let say that select some aircraft 1 -> 2011
2. Scandal -> 2011
3. New RFP -> 2012
4. select aircraft 3 -> 2015
5. Scandal -> 2015
6. New RFP -> 2016
7. select aircraft 6 -> 2019
8. Scandal -> 2019

and tarikh pe tarikh ...

India lives in villages man... China and Pakistan will attack cities and installation that help more ppl in citis and votes come from villages ... nobody gives a damn ... mera bharat mahan

Anonymous said...

Shiv what about the rumor of buying 200 instead of 126 thought of earlier.
do u have any info about this......!!!

Anonymous said...

In your opinion poll, there is no choice for turning down all the six options. What if the mother of all scandals which is now gathering storm becomes a hurricane and results in no choice.

3rd ~ EyE said...

Shiv good work , looks like IAF is funding a -Reality Show Bizzz ! :)

i would to c d Gripen or the Hornet fly past the finish line ... with Su30s in quiver we dont want sum high tech/price junk like Typhoon/Raphael

Rahul said...

Shiv please get me answer of this question i am walking with all these years.

Why Boeing did not offered F-15 instead of F/A-18?

Anonymous said...

Why not F-15 from Boeing..coz I think our Su-30 MKI is designed and made to compete against F-15...

MMRCA should be given to Boeing's F-18 with some conditions attached
1. Total tech transfer with all stealth features boeing currently planning for F-18 , no exceptions
2.We should have Boeing regional Manufacturing of civil and military aviation hub in India as china got their Airbus assembly centre.
3. Stop Pak get advance radar tech from US

Anonymous said...

The us President Even don't want to give jobs to India so why we should buy from their company flights f/16in, f18/sh, and how we can expect they will give full tot they won't consider your (India)benefit they will do for their company and country first so please don't trust American companies here is the latest report that the US president speaks about jobs reference link ( The line that probably has Indian Ministry of External Affairs officials worried is this: “When I took office... we put forward a new economic plan — a plan that... is focused on making our middle class more secure and our country more competitive in the long run — so that the jobs and industries of the future aren't all going to China and India, but are being created right here in the U.S…”

Anonymous said...

Apparently Putin and Medvedev will have to act in the best traditions of the Hindu: unleash more universal mystical sadness on his face and declare that henceforth, in connection with a severe global economic situation and the unstable political situation in countries of the Indian Basin, the cost of modernization of aircraft carrier Vikramaditya rises to 5 -6 billion's $ :)