Rafale vs Typhoon: A History Of Malice

In 2005, the typically circumspect-in-public Dassault Aviation had this to say about the Rafale losing to the Boeing F-15 for a Singapore air force contract: "Bamboo always leans the way it's pushed the hardest." It took solace in the fact that its "status of finalist at Singapore proves that [the Rafale] has every chance of becoming an export success". It was a contest in which the Rafale notably pipped the Eurofighter to the final round.

The Rafale and Eurofighter have competed for several contracts, but India's $12-billion M-MRCA fighter competition is perhaps the first competitive tender in which the two find themselves in a two-horse final. The deal also happens to be the largest single contract that either has ever competed for.

The identity of both airplane programmes was born from the famously acrimonious exit of France in 1985 from the collaborative European venture that finally spawned the Eurofighter. And for two airplanes with comparable ancestry and similar design philosophies, the Rafale and Typhoon have inevitably had a journey peppered with mutual hostility. In the last two weeks since the downselect that pushed both aircraft into the M-MRCA final, hostility has been mostly covert. But it hasn't always been like that. Most recently, EADS had this to say, describing the Typhoon's air show performances at Aero India 2011: "Two impressive air displays to show its power, agility and short take off and landing run. Not like the French Rafale - forced to use the spare aircraft after the first one failed the pre-take off checks and that cut its display short probably for some issue also with the second aircraft - the EF at Aero India was without any problems, confirming the 'traditional' reliability of the system when deployed also so far from the main base."

In May 2008, Eurofighter said pretty much the same at the ILA Berlin show: "As the world’s most advanced swing-role combat system flexed its muscles, the aircrew of our competitors, Rafale and Gripen, could only stand next to their parked jets in the static display area and admire the show."

Things really came to a head, however, during the Dubai air show in November 2009, when Eurofighter accused Dassault of feeding the online media with information about how the Rafale had cut the Typhoon to ribbons in simulated engagements over UAE. "The fact that these reports are unofficial," noted Eurofighter a few months later, "could be a sign of our French competitor frustration in not having signed the much anticipated contract with UAE or possibly even to fulfill a basic need to develop positive stories about the currently unexported fighter." The consortium went on to assert that the stories were false simply because the Rafales and Typhoons "worked together on the same team".

The lenghthy rebuttal ended with Eurofighter asserting that "throughout the exercise Typhoon was always carrying a greater payload than Rafale, Typhoon always came into the fight above Rafale and Typhoon take off performance was always more stunning than Rafale - all fully as expected."

A report [PDF] titled The Industrial and Economic Benefits of Eurofighter Typhoon by one Professor Keith Hartley at York University's Centre for Defence Economics (commissioned by the Eurofighter PR & Communications Office, Munich) notes in one part: "Eurofighter has provided a ranking of rival aircraft in terms of cost and combat effectiveness. This ranking shows that for similar cost, Typhoon is more combat effective than Rafale, JSF, F-15E and F/A-18E; the F-16 and Su-35 are cheaper but considerably less capable; and only the F/A-22 is superior to Typhoon on combat performance, but at considerably higher cost. One study reported that in simulated combat against a Su-35, the F-22 shoots down 10 for every one of its own losses; Eurofighter just under half (some 4.5 Su-35s for every Typhoon); and Rafale was next best which lost one for one."

While the American F/A-18 and F-16 were still in the competition, the two European twin-engines had enough on their plates not to train guns at each other, at least too directly. The MiG-35 and Gripen were never real threats as far as either was concerned in the competition. But with all four eliminated, the floor is well and truly open for war. Since the April elimination, there's been mostly shadow play, the usual. Nothing explicit. Nothing out in the open. Things are still delicate. And there are still a large number of questions about how the two-horse situation has been arrived at at all. It's probably typical that despite the competition and the huge number of comparisons, there are no convincing answers about which is a better aircraft. So I'm putting this question out there, and inviting you to share your thoughts: Typhoon vs Rafale - Which aircraft makes better sense for India and why? Vote below, and comment with your opinion.

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