In the first week of April 2018, Ministry of Defence issued an RFI (Request for Information) to fighter aircraft manufacturers including the six companies that took part in Original MMRCA (Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft) contest of 2007. MoD intends to buy an all –weather, multi role combat air craft that can undertake (i) Air Superiority, (ii) Air Defence (iii) Air to Surface (iv) Reconnaissance (v) Maritime and (vi) Electronic Warfare, buddy refuelling etc operations.
GoI will pay €3.3 billion for 36 fighters, €1.7 billion for modification required by the IAF, €700 million for weaponry, €1.8 billion for spare parts and engines and €350 million for the ‘performance-based logistics’, which will ensure that at least 75% of the Rafale fleet remains operationally available.
RFI is for 110 fighter Aircraft for the IAF, 15% of the fighters (around 16 in number) will be purchased in flyaway condition and rest 85% would be made in India by a Strategic partner/Indian production Agency. 75% of 110 Aircraft would be single seat aircraft and rest will be twin seat. Different analysts and publications are calculating the cost of 100 Aircraft to be around USD 15 billion!
The burden of history: –
MMRCA: In 2007, MoD issued a tender to purchase 126 fighter jets under the MMRCA procurement programme. Six participant fighters were Lockheed Martin F-16 (the USA), Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (the USA), Mikhoyan MiG 35 (Russia), Dassault Rafale(France), Eurofighter Typhoon (European consortium of Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo)and SAAB JAS 39 Gripen (Sweden). These fighters were tested at sea level, extremely hot and cold weathers for over 600 parameters.
As a result of the thorough testing, IAF shortlisted Rafale and Eurofighter in Jan 2012. MoD started negotiations with Dassault because it was the lowest bidder (L1) among the two finalists but could not strike a deal because of various reasons like cost, implementation of 50% offset clause, ToT etc. Dassault raised the concern that India lacked the technological base to absorb the ToT and Dassault did not want to be held responsible for the quality and serviceability of the Rafales manufactured in India. Finally, on 30thJuly 2015 MoD withdrew the MMRCA tender and Keeping in mind the critical operational necessity of fighter aircraft, a deal was signed for 36 Rafale for roughly €7.87 billion in Sep 2016. The decision to buy 36 Rafales was a hasty decision taken during PM Modi’s visit to Paris in 2016.
Delivery of 36 Rafales will start from Sep 2019 and the entire fleet will be delivered with-in 67 weeks of signing the deal. 28 of them will be the single seat and 8 will be dual-seat (trainer) Aircraft. Soon after signing the deal, a senior political leader in the National Democratic Alliancegave the break-up of the total amount to few journalists in an off-the-record briefing. GoI will pay €3.3 billion for 36 fighters, €1.7 billion for modification required by the IAF, €700 million for weaponry, €1.8 billion for spare parts and engines and €350 million for the ‘performance-based logistics’, which will ensure that at least 75% of the Rafale fleet remains operationally available. One of the major advantage extracted from this deal was using the offset clause in getting the French engine giant Snecma to fix the indigenous Kaveri engine.
Single Engine Fighter (SEF): To address the declining squadron strength issue of the IAF, MoD then launched Single Engine Fighter (SEF) aircraft procurement program. Purpose of this program was to procure 100+ light fighter Aircraft for the IAF. There were two reasons cited for this procurement – (i) to save cost as 126 Rafales were to cost around €15 billion and (ii) to setup a parallel production line of a light single engine aircraft that, along with LCA Tejas, will increase the number of fighters joining the IAF every year.
India has no vision as far as defence preparedness is concerned. We have no long term planning and the armed forces have little or no say in the procurement decision making.
Only F16 and Gripen were two suitable planes under this category and both were pitching aggressively. Both companies were making their offer more and more lucrative. Mig-35 also tried hard to come back in the race.
But then came the news of Qatar exercising the option to place a follow-on order of 12 Rafales for €1.1 billion (almost same as India paid for just the fighters i.e. €3.3 billion for 36 fighters). In 2015, Qatar had signed a contract of €6.3 billion for 24 Rafales with MBDA Meteor long-range and Scalp cruise missiles. Ignoring the fact that Qatar’s 2017 order was a follow-on order, opposition political parties started targeting the government for possible corruption.
Nonetheless, the political battle ensued appear to have an impact on the government’s decision to drop the Single Engine fighter procurement. Because there were just two main contenders (F16 and Gripen), the government may face similar corruption allegations in future. Hence walking on the ex-Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s footsteps, MoD dropped the procurement program and started a new procurement program earlier this month. Hence the new RFI, which has no limitation of Single Engine, hence there will be more contestants.
What message does it convey to the world?
No long term planning: – One more time, it proved that India has no vision as far as defence preparedness is concerned. We have no long term planning and the armed forces have little or no say in the procurement decision making. We can invest 10 years in MMRCA contest, take hasty decisions like buying 36 Rafales citing one reason or another and just after 2 years, ignoring the same reason(s) we can restart the contest again.
Citing high cost of the deal (appx. €15 Billion for 126 Rafales), we purchased 36 Rafales for roughly €7.87 billion and now we are willing to spend $10-$15 billion for 110 aircraft! Won’t it defy the basic logic of withdrawing the MMRCA? Why did we spend €7.87 billion on just 36 Rafales? We will end up spending €20 billion for 146 Aircraft of two different categories, so how will the new procurement program save money? Are we giving any importance to IAF’s logistic, maintenance and operational impact of such decisions?
Arming its armed forces with required equipment is not there on our priority list. IAF is the real loser in this political game and has been forced on the path of losing more squadrons over the next decade.
Fragile procurement process and weak leadership: It is easier to sabotage any procurement program in India. All it needs is some aggressive media coverage, which will trigger a political spat. Concerned responsible authorities will panic and close any procurement program. During UPA government, it was rumoured that the then Defence Minister A.K. Anthony had instructed the ministry to shut down any procurement program if any corruption allegations surface. Ministry would not conduct any inquiry and would just restart the program. The over-cautious approach caused serious delays in the procurement, hampered the decision making (and defence preparedness) and frustrated the OEMs, who had spent the time and the energy for years just to get the doors banged on their face for no obvious reason. MoD banned almost half of the defence manufacturer of the world. All this was done to avoid any new Bofors like scandal. The then Defence Minister successfully did that but at the cost of defence preparedness of the country. Current Defence Minister seems to be doing somewhat the same. Momentary dynamism infused by Manohar Parrikar is fading away.
IAF’s preparedness: – Arming its armed forces with required equipment is not there on our priority list. IAF is the real loser in this political game and has been forced on the path of losing more squadrons over the next decade. 10 years of efforts are already wasted in the form of MMRCA competition that gave IAF just 36 Rafales. Tejas was inducted into the IAF on 1st July 2016 with only 2 Aircraft. HAL promised to deliver 8 Aircraft in the first year but after almost two years, Tejas LSP-8 and LSP-9 just flew for the first time in Mar 2018.Though IAF has committed for 123 Tejas but looking at the progress rate, no one knows when those Aircraft will join the IAF.DRDO-HAL’s AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) is still in design phase. IAF had serious reservations about the stealth features and cost of the FGFA (Fifth Generation fighter aircraft) from Russia. International media like The Diplomat, Janes have already announced India’s withdrawal from the FGFA programme.
Apart from 36 Rafales, the remaining 25-30 Su-30 MKIs that HAL will deliver by early 2020 and an unknown number of Tejas, the only possible inductee in the IAF might be 21 second hand Mig-29 that Russia is offering at a price which is almost 30% of the cost of a new Mig-29.
On the other hand, IAF is all set to decommission around 11 Squadrons of Mig-21 and Mig-27 by 2022 – roughly 180-200 Aircraft. By early 2030s, it will also decommission its Jaguar and Mig-29s – another 160 fighters. Hence in the next decade, the number of Aircraft joining IAF will be far less than the outgoing Aircraft. Though the incoming Aircraft will be technologically superior, numerical strength will be a pain area for IAF’s planners because we are talking about two front war. If we just have to tackle Pakistan or China, IAF is more than ready to do so but two-front war scenario will divide the assets in not-so mutually supported battlefields.
During the first phase of Gagan Shakti, IAF focused on Western border and then shifted to Eastern border. In a real two front war scenario, will we get a week’s time to neutralize Pakistani forces and shift our assets to face China?
In recently conducted massive exercise – Gagan Shakti, IAF used 1100 Aircraft to validate its concepts to operate in all kind of terrain – desert, high altitude, special operation and maritime (in both eastern and western sea boards). But it did not exercise an exact two front war scenario. Because it could not have, IAF lacks the number to do so. During the first phase of Gagan Shakti, it focused on Western border and then shifted to Eastern border. In a real two front war scenario, will we get a week’s time to neutralize Pakistani forces and shift our assets to face China?
Current procurement program:
Rest of the write up will discuss the current procurement plan and various options MoD and IAF have. Let us first understand the main objectives of original MMRCA, Single Engine Fighter (SEF) programs and the current RFI.
In the original planning, LCA Tejas was to replace the main stay of the IAF – Mig-21. MMRCA was launched to fill up the technological/operational gap between home grown LCA and heavy fighter – Su-30MKI, in a substantial number, hence the requirement of 126 Aircraft.
When MoD scrapped the MMRCA and signed 36 Rafale contract in 2016, SEF program was launched to boost the IAF’s squadron strength with a less expensive single engine fighter aircraft, which was to be manufactured in India. Another major objective of the SEF was to create a local defence industrial base with the Private partnership. This would have given an acute sense of competition to HAL, which is the only Indian company experienced in this field and enjoys the monopoly – the main reason for its poor performance.
GoI’s main objectives of the current procurement program are still the same
• Getting 110 fighter aircraft for IAF
• Technology transfer to boost domestic aviation industry and
• Local production to create more jobs.
ToT was one of the show stoppers during the Rafale deal. No country will like to do 100% ToT, doing it would mean losing their customer with a big fat valet, forever.
Hopefully, all six contenders will be back in the field again. If there is no new contestant in the race, then the technical evaluation will not take a long time. Among the six contestants, F16, Gripen, Rafale and F/A-18 will most likely have the second bit at the apple. The reasons are explained in the later part of the write up. It will not be the individual potential of the aircraft that will decide the winner. The main deciding factors will be
• Make-in India (to create jobs)
• ToT that will boast domestic defence industrial base,
Make-in-India: All the OEMs are ready to fulfil this condition. F-16’s production line in the US will remain active for next three years, thanks to Bahain’s order of 16 F-16 Block 70 Aircraft. Lockheed will happily transfer that to India. In June 2017, it signed an agreement with Tata Advanced System Limited (TASL) to create a production line in India (if the need arises). SAAB is associated with a lot of Indian public/private entities and has better stats to show to prove its intentions to keep making and developing in India. It is providing Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (IDAS) and integrated electronic warfare self-protection system for the Indian Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) to HAL, developing RIGS heads-up display with Simtel, establishing SAAB India Tech Center with Mahindra, working with CIM Tools Pvt Ltd to manufacture machine components, working with BEL to deliver Costal Surveillance system to Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships (DGLL) etc. With Pipavav Offshore and Defence Engineering Ltd., SAAB has formed a group called Combat System Engineering Group (CSEG) and is working with Kalyani and Ashok Leyland on SRSAM/mobility vehicles. SAAB will be more than happy to transfer Gripen’s production line to India in a bid to grab the biggest order of their history.
Boeing and Rafale are also not left out in this domain. Both have been associated with Indian Public/Private companies for a long time and will agree to make their fighters in India.