July 28, 2015

Maybe India should consider the Eurofighter?

What a difference a few years makes. In 2011 the Rafale had no foreign orders. India had been proclaiming the Rafale the “best aircraft for India” for some 5 years by then and declared it the L1 bidder in the tender for the 126 MMRCA with the Eurofighter Typhoon as the L2. India only negotiated purchase price with the L1 bidder because those were the rules of the tender and we have now come to this point where the price has increased so much that India has scrapped the tender and is only considering buying 36 aircraft for now under government to government with France.
Earlier this year Egypt ordered 24 Rafale and Qatar ordered 24 Rafale so France is no longer under any pressure to obtain sales orders. In fact it is now the opposite i.e. if India actually places the order then France will not be able to make the delivery anytime soon. Yes of course Dassault says it will increase the production to 3 aircraft per month, but given that such an aircraft uses parts procured from various vendors, can they really triple the production from 1 aircraft per month to 3 aircraft a month so easily? So all this creates the opportunity or necessity for raising the price of the Rafale.Now if you look at the Eurofighter Typhoon you will see that it is still the same as 2011 i.e. it has no export orders. The Eurofighter is a consortium including countries of UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain and they obviously are not thrilled at the idea that the Rafale is getting all these export orders while the Typhoon has got none so far. Moreover, in the aircraft industry, when one player gets a lot of orders it starts to have a snowball effect. India already said that the Typhoon would meet its requirements, after all it was designated as the L2 bidder. So this leads to the obvious question of why India does not buy the Typhoon instead of or in addition to the Rafale.
If you tell the Indian Air Force that you will buy 60 Rafale and 60 Typhoon then the IAF will respond that it will create a lot of logistics problems with maintaining the aircraft and procuring spare parts and training of pilots and they of course would be correct.   In return, the politicians will point out that if you buy from a single vendor the cost will always be high whereas if you buy from multiple vendors then going forward you will reach a point where the vendors will compete with each other on price for future orders and not only that in the event of a war, you are not relying on the capabilities of a single aircraft but rather a combination of aircraft to protect your country, so you can make a valid argument that using a variety of aircraft may be a logistics nightmare, but will make the country safer and it will in the long run, wind up costing the same.
Truth be told the IAF has a soft spot for the Rafale because the IAF has the older Dassault Mirage 2000 and they just like the design style of the Dassault aircraft. Also the Rafale was designed from day one with the idea of landing on an aircraft carrier and since India being a peninsula wants to have aircraft carriers, the Rafale is the best choice. But that still does not mean that you cannnot operate both the Rafale and the Typhoon, after all India is a big country and needs a lot of aircraft to protect itself.
So India is reaching a point where it seems the best choice is to buy something from every single vendor. India already buys aircraft from Russia, France, USA and so far the IAF says that is OK because all these aircraft perform different roles, but now maybe the IAF needs to get used to the idea that you will have a plurality of aircraft performing the same role and that it needs to perform the logistics of pilot training, aircraft maintenace and deploying the different aircraft suitably. In other words India needs to abandon the idea that for each role the IAF will have a large number of aircraft which are all identical and instead embrace the idea that no single vendor can be relied upon to give you exactly what you want at the price you can afford and so you have to buy smaller numbers of aircraft from the all the vendors and try to make a working solution that meets all the requirements.
There has been the constant drumbeat in the background of getting foreign help to develop indigenous designs, but I tend to think that is unrealistic. Look at the players involved and try to guess at their motive to help India develop combat fighter aircraft. The Russians, the French, the Americans and the Eurofighter consortium all have their own offering tailor fit to India’s MMRCA requirement and there is no incentive for them to help India develop combat fighter aircraft, and so the only name that crops up periodically is Saab of Sweden.
The Saab offering i.e. the next generation Gripen has only one engine (yes, it is true the American F-16 has only one engine but that is a much bigger engine than the GE F-414 that Saab will be using in the next generation Gripen) is not actually as heavy an aircraft as the other aircraft considered for the MMRCA tender. So that is why Saab really might be interested in helping India develop light combat fighter aircraft but you can take it for granted that Saab is not going help design an actual competitor to the next generation Gripen. It is for that reason and that reason alone that the help offered by Saab may not be of a substantive value to India. Also in a strange way one gets the feeling that the Saab design philosophy is different than the other vendors, because the other vendors are designing combat aircraft, but it seems as if Saab considers the Gripen as an engineering project, so it delivers a superb engineering product but is it really capable of standing up to the other combat aircraft? Of course Sweden is the land of the Vikings, but the next generation Gripen is not the Viking of the combat aircraft community.
In summary India needs to open itself to the possibility of multiple combat aircraft occupying the same role, with the belief that the defense needs are so high that there is room for multiple aircraft to co-exist and still be economically viable. Trying to use only one aircraft per role is unrealistic until the day that India makes its own combat aircraft.


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