MMRCA BUZZ: F-16 Out Of Reckoning? [UPDATED]

In the midst of persistent recent rumours of frontrunners in India's medium multirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA) competition, an explosive new piece of buzz -- and an assertion in the latest issue of India's most widely read news magazine -- now suggest that the Lockheed-Martin F-16 is no longer in the reckoning for the Indian $12-billion 126-fighter prize. And with the MiG-35 long out of the competition, it's now effectively a four-horse game being fought between the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Saab Gripen NG/IN.

Two points: First, the Indian Air Force has refused to comment officially on specific progress in the MMRCA competition, but an IAF officer familiar with developments at Air Force HQ has indicated to a select group of journalists, on condition of anonymity, that the Indian Air Force and Ministry of Defence specifically agree that there is no sense in purchasing a platform that the US is already supplying to Pakistan (notwithstanding the assertion that the variant on offer to India is far more advanced). This, especially when the F-16 has come to symbolise the irritation India nurses against the stubborn rhetoric South Block faces from the US when it registers its disquiet at billions of dollars worth of conventional weapons being supplied hand over fist to Pakistan supposedly for the war against terror.

Second, and more importantly, the latest issue of INDIA TODAY magazine (Nov 15) suggests that pretty unambiguously as well. The cover story, co-authored by senior editor Sandeep Unnithan, notes, "US supplies to Pakistan have effectively nixed the F-16's prospects at being selected as one of the two US contenders for the IAF's $12-billion fighter tender for its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft."

I'm awaiting comments from Lockheed-Martin. Stay tuned. Do please note that the Indian Air Force and Ministry of Defence have not confirmed this information. Also note that there have been several rumours in the past pertaining to specific eliminations from the lucrative MMRCA competition (Lockheed has, in fact, commented in the past on specific rumours), and none of them have been confirmed one way or the other. The competition remains ongoing, with the Ministry of Defence expected to make a single type selection in or around July 2011.

[UPDATE @10.47AM / 9 NOV] Lockeed-Martin has responded to the assertion in the INDIA TODAY cover story (see above). Here it is in full: "President Obama has expressed India’s and the US’s shared interest in a stable Pakistan, free of terrorist enclaves. We have heard nothing that would suggest the Indian government would eliminate either US competitor from the competition because of US engagement with Pakistan. On the contrary, we are very confident, based on the results of the Field Evaluation Trials, that the F-16IN Super Viper is fully compliant with India’s requirements. The F-16IN incorporates capabilities based upon lessons learned from combat and was the only MMRCA competitor to demonstrate an operational Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar in India, the core of the weapon system. This will be the finest F-16 ever built."

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