March 29, 2011

France tries to tie Rafale with Mirage upgrade

( The Sunday Guardian): Insidious French attempts to link the Indian Air Force's (IAFs) long-postponed and contentious Mirage 2000H fleet upgrade to the $10 billion acquisition of Dassault's Rafale fighters in support of the IAF's requirement of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), have further delayed the pending retrofit.
Ostensibly, the deal to upgrade the IAFs 51 Vajra (Thunderbolt) Mirage 2000Hs, widely expected to be confirmed by end-March with fighter manufacturers Dassault Aviation, official sources said, had been further deferred beyond the March 2011 deadline following unresolved price differences over the retrofit.
The IAF merely confirmed the upgrade agreement had not been signed but declined to elaborate.
Last month Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik had declared at Aero India in Bangalore that the "complex and lengthy" negotiations with Dassault Aviation to upgrade the Mirage 2000Hs to Mirage 2000-5 levels had "concluded satisfactorily" and would be announced "shortly" by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). But military and armament industry sources said in recent weeks that the retrofit had been "complicated" by pressure from a desperate France to "inter-relate" it to the MMRCA procurement reportedly nearing closure.
Rafale is pitted against Boeing's F/A-18E/F, Eurofighter's Typhoon, Lockheed Martin's F16IN, Russian Aircraft Corporation's (RSK's) MiG 35 and Saab's JAS 39 Gripen for the MMRCA deal that is expected to increase to 200 fighters for around $16 billion.
On 10 March, ACM Naik had declared that the MoD would shortlist the MMRCA from amongst the six competitors by end-March and "hopefully" confirm the procurement four months later in July.
Believing Rafale to be in the MoD's shortlist alongside Eurofighter and F/A-18, the French were reportedly using the Mirage 2000H upgrade as leverage and possibly even an inducement to push their fighter so far only in service with the French military.
Earlier, in January 2008 Dassault's chief executive officer Charles Edelstenne, accompanying French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his India visit had made an unsolicited offer of supplying the IAF 40 Rafale fighters pending an "eventual decision" to augment its dwindling fighter fleet.
"If India is interested, we are ready to answer (with Rafale fighters). The offer stands," Edelstenne had declared, adding that the proposal to supply 40 Rafales was a "short term measure" keeping in mind delays that normally accompany all Indian defence contracts.
"We have some experience with Indian delays. Which is why Dassault has made the unsolicited offer," he stated. At the time the MoD and the IAF declined to comment on Edelstenne's offer.
Edelstenne also maintained that French government policies were more conducive than those of the United States for smooth defence ties with India.
"Our market is for countries that want to be independent of the US. The US policy (of imposing sanctions and stopping military deals) is well-known. We are a country which sells military equipment without any preconditions," he said.
The Dassault head was referring to US-imposed sanctions on India for its 1998 nuclear tests that impacted negatively on several domestic military projects and in providing spares to Indian Navy helicopters, a measure that severely curtailed their operational mobility. The sanctions, eventually lifted in October 2001 also impacted adversely on India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft programme, delaying its development by several years as it is powered by a US-supplied engine.
Meanwhile, the IAF and the MoD had dismissed Dassault's demand of $3.3 billion to retrofit the Mirage-2000H fleet as "highly inflated". Both concurred that each upgrade, costing around Rs 2.9 billion each, which included equipping the fighters with new avionics, advanced navigation systems, mission computers and a pulse doppler radar capable of identifying objects up to a distance of 70 nm, was roughly equivalent to the price of a new fighter but critically without the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
In comparison, upgrading the IAF's 63 MiG-29 fighters presently underway in Russia was costing $964 million or a reasonable $15.3 million. The retrofit would render the MiG 29 from being an aerial interceptor and air dominance fighter to becoming a fighter-bomber capable of striking mobile and stationary targets on ground and at sea with high-precision weapons under all weather conditions.
Dassault officials, however, rationalised this huge upgrade cost by maintaining that the retrofitted fighters would provide IAF commanders the operational flexibility to commit fewer aircraft on combat missions for higher success rates, thereby rendering the programme cost effective.
Additionally, the upgraded electronic warfare systems, including radar warning receivers with instantaneous wide-bank receivers, electronic jammers and countermeasure systems and enhanced fuel capacity would keep the Mirage-2000Hs operationally relevant for over two decades.
Glass cockpits and helmet-mounted displays would complete the upgrade, in addition to arming them with Rafael Armament Development Authority's medium-range stand-off AGM-142 Raptor/Have Nap/Popeye air-to-surface launched cruise missile, specially configured for the IAF and codenamed "Crystal Maze" with an 80-100 km range. They would also be armed with MBDA's MICA, the anti-air multi-target, all weather, fire-and-forget short and medium-range missile systems.
The retrofit, which includes a Rs 30 billion proposal to augment the capabilities of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to retrofit 47 Mirage-2000Hs in Bangalore in as many months, after four were readied in France within 40 months of the deal being inked, would, doubtlessly enhance the Mirage-2000H's operational relevance but one which senior IAF officers believe makes little sense for such an astronomical price.

No comments:

Post a Comment