Friday, April 29, 2011

Top 5 Myths Shattered By India's MMRCA Knockout

The Indian government's decision to eliminate four of six aircraft in contention for the $9.5-billion medium multirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA) competition dismantles -- or at least puts on the stand -- many perceptions that had gathered a sense of unspoken legitimacy in the mythology that surrounded the competition. It's still too soon to call anything, but Wednesday's decision at the very least showed that the following stand refuted for now:

#1. The pervasive belief that any selection in the M-MRCA would be guided more by political and strategic considerations than strictly what the Indian Air Force wanted for its next fighter. And that since strategic considerations overwhelmed all other impulses in the effort, the deal would go to the Americans for three broad reasons: (a) quid pro quo for the substantive political realignment that New Delhi and Washington have engaged in, underscored by the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, (b) the indubitably more meaningful politico-strategic package that the US potentially offered, compared to the other competing nations, and (c) and that considering everything else that India was doing with the US -- exercises, other military contracts, intelligence sharing and a substantive multi-tiered diplomatic engagement -- the MMRCA not going to the Americans would stick out like a sore thumb and damage all the good bilateral work done so far. It would signal an arrogant lack of reciprocity. Why would India risk the bad blood knowing all too well how much the US was politically and economically invested in a favourable decision. This Livefist post earlier this month pointed straight at the death of this perception. The other view is, of course, that choosing the Typhoon and Rafale actually is a political decision: one that gives the IAF what it wants while still signalling to the US that India won't put all its strategic eggs in a single basket.

#2. Another early but powerful perception was that the IAF would hold sacred its requirement for a medium fighter (more or less comparable to the Mirage-2000H), and be wary of selecting heavier jets like the Typhoon, Rafale and F/A-18. The Gripen (a light fighter) and the F-16 campaigns included elements to suggest that buying "heavier" aircraft made little sense for the IAF considering the steady ongoing induction of Su-30MKIs. The two aircraft surviving the downselect come closer to the definition of heavy than any of the others, barring the F/A-18 which is the heaviest of the six. To be fair, this perception was history quite a while ago, but in 2004-06, there were plenty in the IAF who guffawed at Boeing's F/A-18 entering the fray.

#3. The perception that credible operational experience, and the presence of proven AESA radars (a stipulation in the 2007 RfP) would count for a lot, and as a result, the F-16 and F/A-18 being the only two with both, were cruising. The decision takes this perception and puts it straight through a shredder. The government has basically selected two of the three most operationally inexperienced jets in contention -- Eurofighter and the Rafale (I'm counting the MiG-29, since the MiG-35 doesn't exist) -- and neither the Typhoon nor the Rafale has an operational AESA radar yet.

#4. The perception that life cycle / ownership costs would play a meaty definitive role in any downselect or selection. While this has to have been a criterion at some level, the IAF has chosen two large twin-engine fighters. While Saab and Lockheed-Martin have done a great deal to defeat this impression, the fact remains that a twin-engine platform is more reliable, notwithstanding the undoubdtedly enhanced reliability of the new generation engines that power the F-16 Block 60 and the Gripen NG. At the same time, twin engines and life cycle savings aren't exactly best friends. The twin-vs-single engine debate got quite heated in 2009-10, but the government went with two twins in the end.

#5. The perception that considering the complexity of the competition and the inherently disparate types being compared, the effort would take inordinately long. Also, the perception that the benchmarking of substantially different airplanes would raise questions that would delay the process and lend itself to protests. Well, there could still be protests/appeals, but there is no question about the relative swiftness with which the Indian establishment has evaluated the M-MRCA competitors. I'm talking strictly from issuance of RfPs in 2007, and taking into account the hugely altered methodologies that were practically being concurrently conceptualized along with the procurement effort, including but not limited to the algebra of ownership cost and offsets. Also, the usual time it takes for decisions to be made here.

Base image ©


Anonymous said...

very good analysis , very good blog
Reading older posts, you were right on the track

Anonymous said...

Is the ability to drop bombs part of the RFP requirements? Judging by the way the British press is panning their Government's decision to induct Typhoons, I can't understand why the IAF has even shortlisted it!

Anonymous said...

On Feb 20, 2011 you published "Could This Be The MMRCA Ranking? :)"

Two of the first three choices had ET as No 1 and Rafale as No 2 and one had Rafale as No 1 and ET as No 2.

Your information was spot on. Congratulations.

Why don't you now tell us who will win? :)

Anonymous said...

any information about it ?
that look not realistic

note list for each aircraft

Anonymous said...

The Selection of Rafale and Typhoon was purely on merit. It is a coincidence that political considerations have been fulfilled with the success of these two aircraft. moreover the AESA radar of the rafale would be ready for integration from 2013 onwards.Rafale will win and the Navy's requirement would be met in near future.the four aircraft that have been eliminated must have fared badly in flight evaluation tests.

Mr. Ra said...

It was an excellent decision by the concerned and a good analysis by you.

The poll has been vindicated.

If not Mig, then I support 126 Rafale and 77 EFT or vice versa depending on the prices.

Heberian said...

Very nice thought flow Shiv.

Anonymous said...

The notion of "credible operational experience" on #3 is questionable. An old aircraft has indeed more experience than a more modern one...

Dinakar Peri said...

@ to the above post: its the old and experienced pilot and not the pilot that counts... if old aircraft has more experience then we could have as well ordered more Mig-29's!!! Bottomline technology matters!

Shiv: well said and totally agree.. glad at the outcome and hope there are no spokes in the wheel at this stage and the deal gets concluded.

dexy said...

What is the next step in this competition? And is there any time frame in which the competition should finish and the deal closed?

Anonymous said...

Indian Media is the only one who making too much noise and thinking about USA and his next move. Here (Atlanta, USA) no one bother about the deal, everyone is saying good decision (read blogs on NYTimes, USAToday & Washington Post) and are definatly understanding indian merit clearly. Everyone agree that USA already got lot of deals so no need to be loude on one lost deal. Its clearly compitition, who perform well will definatly win.

Anonymous said...

good one

Anonymous said...


May be you all are reading too much between the line..

I think this is not the end or last of the Indian order or choice..

May be soon we have raptors .. if the situation and budgets so allow...

But Amirkhans have to do some friend gaining exercises as times have changed quite a lot..
I think their biggest minunes were the teens being with Pakies...

No way Indians will settle for Pakistani aircrafts... Poor uncle Sam..

Avinash said...

Like it man! keep them coming

Anonymous said...

If you think this decision is apolitical, then you are mistaken. Fact is, India couldn't go for either Russian or American jets. Although officially cold war is over, the reality is quite different. If you check Russia Today's views on USA, then it's the same old story. Both US and Russia are important to India. Hence, awarding this contract to anyone of them would have led to antagonizing the other.
India opting for the F414 engines is an indication that India is compensating USA for not selecting their jets. The US ambassador questioning India's or HAL's competence to build advanced jets and Boeings India chief putting down his papers were an indication that USA is out of the competition.
If India selects Rafale, then it will be more than just ToT wrt to advanced jets. Today France has one of the most advanced nuke tech.

Maximus said...

An intelligent piece where you seem to have smartly made all the reasons why these two are bad choices look like faith redeemed.

Here are a few questions from your own piece.

One, so it wasnt really meant to be a medium weight aircraft with enough numbers and what we really needed was a heavy like Sukhoi. Why?

Second, the Americans and Russians are out because they are Americans and Russians? Hmmm. Are we really thinking of the next 30 years living in an oasis of peace even as oil prices and the middle east heat up together. And sure, the frogs will be the first to help us out???

Third, the AESA didnt count but it did in the case of at least one of the other four: The Gripen.

Fourth, Life cycle cost doesn't really matter. Really? Wow, so when did that happen for any airforce.

Fifth, what was the hurry? The call was taken within ten days of re-submission of the offset proposals. Why? Who was in a hurry? The outgoing Chief? Why?

Sixth, so now when they open the tenders and figure out both EF and Rafale dont make the cut on either price, ToT or Offset, what happens? The tender gets scrapped?

Seventh, Is this whole decision about toys for the boys or about fleet composition choices. The Mirage remained a pocket. No spillovers. No fleet extension. Ditton Jaguars. Arent we repeating the same mistake at a much higher price? At least the MiGs gave us a continued and stable force for almost 30 years.

Eighth, the future is or should be India made aircraft. The MMRCA purchase should be an investment that spins off for both the LCA and the MCA. Do the current two do either? We have bought from the French and the Eurofighter partners before.

Ninth, both aircraft will be very long in the tooth when the last of the 126 land in India. These are neither fully developed aircraft nor aircraft that have an open ended development vehicle. So, in essence, our brand new fleet will fully stocked precisely when both the EF and Rafale would have moved out of the board.

Tenth, money is not an issue so we will get all 126 of the most expensive aircraft in the competition. Wow! So we will only have heavies given that FGFA, the Sukhois and now the so-called MMRCA and no way below 20 tonnes, the essential qualifier.

Has the IAF actually gunned for what they wanted and not wanted they need. And some bit of procedural moderation may well be called for because these choices simply dont seem to create a sustainable airforce.

This is probably what happens when the household sends the driver to buy the car. Obviously, the driver buys one that meets his operational needs. Does it meet the household's needs?

Anonymous said...

Hilarious. I wonder in how many countries do they let the generals, admirals and air marshals do their own buying?

Shiv Aroor said...

@Maximus: Good questions. But a quick point -- busting those myths is not about justifying or "redeeming" a decision, good or bad. I'm just talking about certain perceptions that now stand objectively questioned.

The questions you ask are all good questions that do need to be asked. Will be posting more about all of those things you've mentioned.

Shiv Aroor said...

@Maximus: Good questions. But a quick point -- busting those myths is not about justifying or "redeeming" a decision, good or bad. I'm just talking about certain perceptions that now stand objectively questioned.

The questions you ask are all good questions that do need to be asked. Will be posting more about all of those things you've mentioned.

Maximus said...

Thanks Shiv for kindly responding. It would also be useful as a separate piece to look at what happens if the boys get their toys in terms of fleet composition.

The LCA is no way close to delivering the replacement numbers needed for the MiGs getting phased out by 2017.

Refurbishing the Mirages will cost us as much as buying new F-16s or Gripens. And we have a heavy head of Su-30s and EF/Rafale and no body and no tail.

Its great to want these lovely machines but what kind of a fleet are you left with?

It would be wonderful if you can speak to a bunch of ex-IAF, Defence Strategists and people who understand the dynamics of having a staggered fleet structure.

We know that the IAF used to understand than when they pitched for an MMRCA but somewhere the logic went out of the window.

Bhavin said...

just look forward, Knocked out are really loosers. Excellent decision by IAF.

Bhavin said...

@Anonyms from Atlanta : absolutely true, brother.

captainjohann said...

I think it is strategically thought out by the current IAF brass who felt strangulated by the conditions which US put on the purchase of C5 for the Avionics pod.The helicopters they sold to Navy and Trenton cost also had its lessons for IAF.Nobody can point finger at Antony also helped in IAF selecting a fighter which they felt comfortable though the Hawk purchase was a flop show.Every one knows typhoon is being phased out by RAF but , may be the cost will decide.
Also there is a strong political message to Pakistan which felt Pro american Manmohan decides everything.Now the cold start doctrine will look credible.

Anonymous said...

You said "Cold Start Doctrine"??

That has been consigned into cold storage !!

Perhaps till we complete squardon strength, you mean.

Anonymous said...

Eurofight has much ITAR commponent, you must require the approval of the United States for purchase of the typhoon or the spare parts, or usa missile,
Naturally, the United States can suspend this approval constantly, rafale does not have a component ITAR, it does not need to require the permission.

Anonymous said...

@ maximus nice questions raised here couldn'd agree more
this is the case of what we want dominating what we need
we need a cheap light force multiplier which can get the job done with the help of heavier and more capable su-30 and i personally think gripen could have done the job

Anonymous said...

Excellent article to which I would like to add my comments and views to the first three points or myths.

1) The IAF downselection is probably the most thorough, professional and scientific among the fighter competitions held in the past ten years. So congratulations to the Air Force for the objectivity and seriousness of their methodology. That shows a lot of respect for the competitors who have spent considerable energy and expected a fair process. Top scoring here for the IAF!
On the other hand if the key drivers for the selection had been strategic and geo-political considerations, there was no need to go through such a rigorous process. Those observers complaining about some lack of reciprocity demonstrate to have no respect for India's independence and for a competitive selection process. India does not need to link a particular acquisition to show some sort of deference or short-term reciprocity. Whoever raises such issues must have in mind a "master-servant" relationship.

2)I believe that the IAF has stuck to their key requirement of procuring a Medium weight fighter by downselecting the two best medium weight candidates in the race: Rafale at 10,300kg and Typhoon at 11,000kg empty mass. The Super Hornet with an empty weight of 14,000kg falls in the heavy category (The F-15E with OEW=14,500kg cannot be regarded as a medium fighter!) The single engined F-16E at around 9,200+ kg is in the upper reaches of the Low weight category, as is the Gripen.
The "weight filter" rationale seems to me quite important in defining the three main columns on which the future IAF combat force structure shall be based upon. The Heavy one with the Flanker and PAK-FA, the Medium with the MMRCA and the Light with the LCA. That should be the end game one day and the downselection in the MMRCA reflects that important requirement. So I would again congratulate the IAF for being consequent.

3) In a downseelction where the political considerations did not carry much weight, it is no surprise that the IAF went for the most modern platforms in terms of aerodynamics and airframe design, rather than for well proven but 1970 designs, stretched to their limits and with little growth margins. This is a fighter that will operate over the next 40 years, so one has to look at the potential for the future rather than maturity and past operational experience. The same applies to the sensor suite and radar in particular. Both designs sport an AESA radar still under development. During the MMRCA lifetime sensors will go through several upgrades as the technology in this field is still developing rapidly, whereas the general airframe architecture (more mature technology area) is likely to be little affected. What I mean is that such key features as wing area or nose section (important to size the radar antenna and thus its performance!)will not change much if at all. In this perspective, the selection of the two most modern platforms indicate that the IAF has considered very carefully these key aspects.