Sunday, May 29, 2011

The IAF dilemma: To upgrade its Mirage fleet or buy new jets

Should the IAF upgrade all its 51 French Dassault M2000 jets for Rs 14,400 cr or purchase new fighters?

What the IAF wants

The IAF expects the aircraft to have beyond visual range capabilities, lookdown and shoot-down capabilities, advanced electronic counter measures, and multi-target, multi-shoot capabilities

The stumbling block

The proposal does not fulfill requirements. Plus, the upgrade does not include the cost of procuring new weaponry worth Rs 80 cr. Is it cheaper to buy a new fleet?

The Indian Air Force has a dilemma: should it go ahead and upgrade it’s 51-strong Mirage fleet or purchase new fighters for Mirages’ specific role? Talks between the Ministry of Defence and Mirage’s French manufacturer Dassault are in the final stage and a decision is expected soon.

Upgrade of the French Dassault M2000 fighter aircraft would cost a whopping Rs 14,400 crore but it does not include the cost of procuring new weaponry worth Rs 80 crore.

If the Defence Ministry and the manufacturer sign the agreement, Dassault will supply four upgraded aircraft and kits to upgrade the remaining 47 aircraft to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Roughly Rs 4,500 crore is to be spent by HAL on the upgrade. It will also charge nearly Rs 900 crore for the furnished items.

A section of the IAF top brass feels that the upgrade cost is too high as the officers say that buying a new fighter would work out cheaper.

“Avionics and weaponry are complementary but their capabilities don’t always match. The upgrade process is very complicated and thorough and has to be very convincing for it to be approved,” said Air Marshal (retired) D. Keeler - hero of the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars. Mirage fighters were inducted in the IAF during Keeler’s tenure in the mid-eighties. “Upgradation is always planned on the future lifespan of the airframe and engines,” he added.

New weapons required to be fitted in the proposed upgraded aircraft include BVR (RF) MICA missiles, IR MICA missiles, conventional weapons and smart guided weapons with standoff capabilities, and air-to-surface weapons.

Incidentally, Dassault fighter Rafale has been shortlisted along with Eurofighter Typhoon in the over $10.5 billion deal for 126 Medium Multi Role-Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). Two American, one Swedish and one Russian rival firm are out of the race.

The Eurofighter is said to having an edge over Rafale. Dassault sees this as a ‘win-win situation’: If it fails to get the MMRCA deal, it is confident of clinching the Mirage upgrade deal. Purchasing new Mirages is not an option now as France has closed the production line, presumably to avoid competition between Mirage 2000 and the Rafale. When last produced in 2007, the estimated price of a Mirage 2000-09 was Rs 30-35 million.

The first batch of 40 Mirage aircraft was delivered during 1986-87, the second batch of nine during 1988-89 and the third batch of 10 aircraft during 2003-04. Of these 59 aircraft, only 51 are now in the fleet. The rest have been lost.

The proposal is to upgrade all 51 aircraft to extend their operational life and update their capability. The ‘cardinal points’ of the proposal include: no airframe modifications, no changes to major aircraft systems, no modification to equipment bays, limited cockpit modifications, minimum retrofit line modification facilities/activities, and, most significantly, it does not cover the cost of supply of weapons.

As the purpose of the upgrade is to bring the IAF’s Mirage 2000 fleet up to the standard of the Mirage 2000-5 Mk2, which is used by the French and sold as the Mirage 2000-09, would it not be a better option to ascertain whether any country wants to sell some or all of its inventory at a more competitive cost than that represented by the upgrade, questions the anti-upgrade lobby within the IAF.

India had reportedly talked to Qatar, which was looking to sell its Mirage 2000-09 fleet of 12 aircraft. The talks failed as Qatar’s price expectations could not be met. Some senior officers are of the view that this setback does not preclude the attempt to identify another source, provided that the price is reasonable and that there is sufficient service life remaining to justify the acquisition.

India must negotiate and conclude contracts for the upgrade of Mirage fighters and procurement of weapons simultaneously, advise senior IAF officers. Otherwise, they warn, weapon manufacturers will dictate their ‘expensive terms’ later.

Indian Air Chief watches demonstration flight of FGFA

Indian Air Chief PV Naik on Monday watched the demonstration flight of the prototype of fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) at a Russian airbase near Moscow, which will be jointly developed and produced by the two countries under an inter-governmental agreement signed in October 2007. Besides the flight demonstration of one of the two prototypes of PAK-FA T-50 (FGFA) fighter, the Indian Air Chief also watched the flight of modernised MiG-29UPG of the Indian Air Force at the airfield of M M Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky town near Moscow.

Under a multi-million dollar contract signed in 2008, Russia's MiG Aircraft Corporation is upgrading six of the IAF's fighter MiG-29 fleet, while rest will be modernised in India for which the Russian aircraft maker will supply kits.

In the course of upgradation the MiG-29 fighters in service with IAF their avionics will be unified with the MiG-29K deck based fighters for the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier (former Gorshkov), including systems developed by HAL and Bharat Dynamics and French companies, according to a United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) release, the umbrella organisation of Sukhoi and MiG Corporations.

President of UAC and simultaneously CEO of Sukhoi and MiG corporation, Mikhail Pogosyan, officials of Rosoboronexport state arms exporter and Russian Air Force also present at the airfield during the demonstration of the fighter jets.

"For the United Aircraft Corporation Russian-Indian cooperation is a long-term partnership based on over fifty year long interaction," Pogosyan was quoted as saying by his press service.

This was first high level interaction between Russian and Indian officials after Russia's MiG-35 lost the race for IAF's multi billon dollar mega-tender for the acquisition of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) last month.

India goes full steam to finalize $10.4 billion jet deal

Rejecting the carping by those ejected out of the hotly-contested $10.4 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) race, most notably the US, India is going full throttle to ink the "mother of all defence deals'' by December.

The aim is to ensure that deliveries of the 126 fighters begin from December 2014 onwards to stem IAF's fast-eroding combat edge. Top defence sources, in fact, said plans were afoot to base the first MMRCA squadron in the western sector, most probably at Ambala, by end-2015.

The first 18 jets will come in "fly-away condition" from the aviation major -- only Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS) and French Rafale (Dassault) are now left in contention -- finally selected for the project.

Subsequent batches of the 108 fighters, to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) after transfer of technology, will progressively be based in other operationally relevant locations, with special focus on the eastern front with China.

"The first fighter built in HAL should roll out in December 2016. Thereafter, HAL will deliver six jets per year, which will go up to 20 per year later. HAL will achieve 85% technology absorption by the end,'' said a source.

With plans clearly chalked out, MoD ruled out any scope for comebacks by the eliminated four fighters -- American F/A-18 'Super Hornet' ( Boeing) and F-16 'Super Viper' ( Lockheed Martin), Swedish Gripen (Saab), and Russian MiG-35 ( United Aircraft Corporation).

With only Typhoon and Rafale left in the reckoning after the "gruelling and transparent'' technical and flying evaluation, MoD's Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) and Technical Offsets Evaluation Committee (TOEC) are now working to submit their reports soon.

"We should be ready to open the Typhoon and Rafale commercial bids in July,'' said the source. Thereafter, it will take another month to determine the lowest bidder (L-1) because of "huge mathematical and data verification'' of the lifecycle costs of operating the jets over a 40-year period. Commercial negotiations with the L-1 vendor will then begin before the final contract is ready for signing by December.

Asked about "points'' being raised by eliminated vendors, sources said only Rafale and Typhoon were found "compliant'' on all the 643-660 technical attributes or ASQRs (air staff qualitative requirements) laid down to meet IAF's specific operational requirements.

"Our test pilots flew 222 sorties, over 270 hours, on the six fighters in different weather conditions in India and abroad. Each vendor was informed of its jet's performance at every stage... they have no reason to complain,'' the source said.

But what about the crucial AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, which is operational only on American fighters at present? MoD said the ASQRs did "not require a flying AESA radar''. Instead, vendors had to demonstrate "a baseline radar model in flight or on a test-bed, the complete working model in a lab and how it would be integrated'' on the Indian MMRCA. "Five fighters, including Rafale and Typhoon, met this requirement,'' said the source.

Overall, MoD and IAF are confident there are "enough safeguards'' built into the project, which include "performance-based logistics'' to ensure India "gets the best machine, spares and product support''.

India Accelerates Fighter Deal

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony says India’s much-anticipated choice in its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program could occur before the end of March 2012.

India wants to expedite the deal in part because Pakistan is expecting a speedy delivery of 50 JF-17 aircraft, which originally were to be spread out over two years, according to defense ministry officials.

Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar has been quoted saying that his country is seeking delivery within six months of the JF-17 Thunder single-engine multirole fighters, which were developed by China and Pakistan.

A Pakistan air force spokesman says the first batch of these aircraft will be handed over to Islamabad within weeks. The agreement to expedite the delivery came as Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, held talks in Beijing on May 19.

Antony has expressed discomfort over this development. “It is a matter of serious concern for us. The main thing is, we have to increase our capability — that is the only answer,” he says.

Last month, India short-listed the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale for the estimated $11 billion contract to provide 126 fighter jets (Aerospace DAILY, April 28). India rejected Boeing’s F/A-18E/F and Lockheed Martin’s F-16. Russia’s MiG-35 and Saab’s Gripen also were shut out.

The Indian air force is buying the MMRCA to replace its aging Soviet-era MiG-21 fighters, which date back to the 1960s.

“The negotiation for crucial commercial terms will begin next month,” says Michael Christie, senior vice president at BAE Systems India. BAE is part of the Eurofighter consortium, along with Alenia Aeronautica and EADS.

The first 18 jets will be bought in “fly-away” condition, and the remainder will be produced under license with a selected vendor in India.

According to sources close to the project, the government has initiated negotiations with the bidders on offset requirements. India has fixed offset obligations at 50%, requiring that half of the deal’s worth be reinvested in Indian industry.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

India OKs $2.1B Upgrade for 51 Mirage Aircraft

India's top acquisition body has cleared a $2.1 billion deal to upgrade 51 Dassault Mirage 2000H aircraft, ending a four-year wait.

A Mirage 2000 jet fighter takes off from Nancy-Ochey, France. India will spend $2.1 billion to upgrade 51 Dassault Mirage 2000H aircraft. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)

At its May 19 meeting, the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) agreed to the French proposal to allow only French missiles on the upgraded Mirage aircraft, ruling out a proposal to arm the planes with Israeli missiles, said a Defence Ministry source.

A contract is expected within three months, and the program is to be complete within five years after that.

Under the deal, lead integrator Thales and Dassault will upgrade four Mirages in France, then help India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) perform the work on the other 47. MBDA will help deliver a variety of missiles for the upgrade.

The upgrade includes replacing the avionics with two mission computers, an advanced navigation system, and pulse doppler radar that can look down to detect targets through clutter out to 70 nautical miles.

The new glass cockpit will come with two lateral displays and an advanced head-down display. The upgraded radar warning receiver will have an instantaneous wide bank receiver and an integrated missile approach warning receiver that can provide continuous information on time to impact. A new jammer will be able to handle multiple surveillance acquisition radars. Other new gear will include a digital video recorder, data transfer system, and simulation systems.

The upgraded aircraft will be able to carry four beyond-visual-range missiles and other missiles and smart ammunition.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eurofighter Typhoon frontrunner to bag the $11 billion Indian Air Force Multi-Role Combat Aircraft contract

Eurofighter Typhoon is the front-runner for the USD 11 billion contract Indian Air Force Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal, a senior official of the BAE Systems has said indicating that if the contract goes through a part of fighter manufacturing would be off loaded to India.

"The negotiation for crucial commercial terms will begin next month," Michael Christie , Senior Vice President, BAE Systems India told a group of visiting journalists at BAE Systems' production centre at Warton, Lancashire, in UK yesterday.

India had short-listed French Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets for the project to acquire 126 fighters, while rejecting American Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16, Sweden's Gripen and Russian MiG-35 fighters.

Dassault and Europefighter have been asked by the Ministry of Defence to extend the offer validity.

"If Typhoon is chosen, the order for the contract will be firmed up in the first quarter of next year and "delivery of aircraft will begin in 2015," Christie indicated.

According to Christie, Typhoon is a generation ahead of Chinese aircraft J10 Thunder.

"China also unveiled a proto-type of J20. But typhoon is one of the most advanced aircraft, The missile capability of the aircraft and radar capability are of a different level," he said.

It is built by a four-nation European consortium - Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain - with Britain and Germany having 33 per cent stake each.

Answering a question on indigenisation of HAWK, Christie said "The indigenisation programme is very successfull.

India had contracted to receive 66 HAWK - 26 built in the UK and 42 under licence by HAL in Bengaluru under a 1 billion pound agreement and the contract was widened by New Delhi to purchase 57 more HAWKs under licence production.

Today, the Indian Tricolour is flying proudly outside the BAE Warton production centre, along with the British flag, thanks to the massive Indian order, which is keeping the company going.

Christie said that India is keen to have 70 per cent of the Typhoon to be produced in India and the 30 per cent in the UK.

BAE is keen to make India a partner of the Consortium, Christie said.

Asked whether India could export HAWK, Christie said, the existing agreement does not allow it.

"We are in discussion to find how we can do that". Christie said, adding, "Typhoon has taken us to the next generation of aircraft".

"If India were to finalise the agreement for Typhoon, it will be produced in Bengaluru. They will have to create new space for it in Bengaluru", he said.

India set to sign $2.4bn Mirage deal with France

Faced with a dual threat from China and Pakistan, which have even come together to manufacture fighter jets, India is really cranking up military aviation contracts. Even as the $4.1 billion deal for 10 American C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft awaits the final nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), another major contract is now headed that way.

Defence ministry sources on Wednesday said the long-awaited deal with France for the upgrade of 52 Mirage-2000 multi-role fighters in IAF's combat fleet is "finally ready" at a cost of almost Rs 11,000 crore ($2.4 billion).

"This is also now going to CCS for approval. Another big contract, which was being progressed simultaneously, for around 450 MICA (interception and aerial combat missiles) systems to arm the upgraded Mirages is also in the final stages now," said a source.

This comes after long-drawn negotiations with French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft manufacturer), Thales (weapons systems integrator) and MBDA (missile supplier), which were "initially asking for much more", said sources.

Under the contract, the first four to six Mirages will be upgraded in France, while the rest will be retrofitted in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) with transfer of technology from the French companies.

This means the overall Mirage upgrade package, including the fire-and-forget MICA missiles and the infrastructure build-up at HAL, will eventually cross the Rs 15,000-crore mark.

It obviously raises questions whether it would be more prudent to simply buy new fighters rather than upgrade older ones at such a huge cost. IAF, however, argues the "retrofitted" Mirages -- with new avionics, radars, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites, weapon delivery and precision-targeting systems -- would remain "top-notch fighters" for almost two decades more.

With a depleting number of fighter squadrons (each has 16 to 18 jets), down to just 32 from a `sanctioned strength' of 39.5, IAF is going for a mix of upgrades and new inductions to stem its fast-eroding combat edge over even Pakistan.

There is, for instance, the ongoing upgrade of 63 MiG-29s under a $964 million deal inked with Russia in March 2008. Then, India is also progressively inducting the 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted from Russia for around $12 billion. Moreover, the first lot of the around 120 indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft will begin joining the force from end-2013 onwards.

India also wants to ink by December this year the $10.4 billion project for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), in which only the French Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoons are now left in contention after ejection of the American, Russian and Swedish jets.

On top of this all, India hopes to begin inducting 250-300 advanced stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), being co-developed with Russia, from 2020 onwards, in what will be its biggest-ever defence project at around $35 billion.

India withdraws tender for newer Jaguar combat jet engine

The defence ministry has withdrawn its tender for re-engining the Indian Air Force's Jaguar combat jets after one of the two contenders opted out, a leading defence journal says.

The Request for Proposal (RfP), as the tender is known in technical parlance, was issued to Honeywell, which had offered its F-125IN engine and Rolls Royce, whose Adour-811 has powered the Jaguar's since their induction in the IAF in the late 1970s, India Strategic defence magazine ( reports in its current edition.

The IAF would now have to submit a fresh proposal to the defence ministry, which will then issue another tender. This process is expected to take about a year.

The IAF has about 125 Jaguars, described as a deep penetration strike aircraft (DPSA). Given the evolving battlefield scenarios, the engine is regarded as underpowered to meet current requirements. A decision was taken a few years back to install more powerful engines to utilize the residual life of the airframe, and an RfP was issued on November 26, 2010.

The two companies were given time till April 22 to submit the RfPs.

But Rolls Royce recently withdrew from the competition, saying it had previously offered to upgrade the Adour-811 to the Adour-821 while the RfP was for re-engining. There was, however, no official word from the company.

The resultant single vendor situation forced the defence ministry to cancel the RfP, with the decision being communicated March 28.

The Adour-821 powers the Hawk advanced jet trainer ( AJT), which both the IAF and the Indian Navy are already buying. Privately, Rolls Royce sources say that a single engine for the Jaguar and Hawk fleets would be cost-effective in maintenance terms.

Honeywell has countered that its engine is technically superior.

"Our F-125IN engine generates 30 percent more thrust than the competition, and we do hope that our technical superiority will be our winning edge," Pritam Bhavnani, president of Honeywell Aerospace India, said.

However, if the IAF chooses to go ahead with only one engine maker, then it will to go through the government concerned to either buy the engine in an FMS (foreign military sale)-type deal or on commercial terms from the company concerned.

Bhavnani said that Honeywell was supposed to give a demonstration to the IAF as part of the selection process after the RfPs were submitted. Although the RfP has been withdrawn, Honeywell is continuing work to fine-tune the engine for this demonstration as and when it takes place.

"We are ready when IAF is and we will prove the operational advantages of the F-125IN engine," he added. Honeywell has already tested the engine on an old Jaguar aircraft.

Significantly, Bhavnani also said that Honeywell was ready to share high levels of technologies with India, be they on aircraft or other systems.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Decks cleared for biggest ever Indo-US defence deal

India may have ejected American fighters out of the $10.4 billion race to supply 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) but US really has no reason to crib. Decks have now been cleared for the biggest-ever Indo-US defence deal: the $4.1 billion contract for 10 C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft.

Defence ministry sources on Thursday said the Globemaster deal, a direct government-to-government contract under the American FMS (foreign military sales) programme, should get the "final nod" from the Cabinet Committee on Security "within this month".

"All issues connected to costing and offsets (under which Globemaster-manufacturer Boeing will plough back 30% of the contract value into India) have been resolved," said a source.

IAF certainly needs to augment its strategic airlift capability to swiftly move combat systems and troops over large national and international distances, given that it has just over a dozen Russian-origin IL-76 `Gajraj' aircraft. Capable of carrying a payload of almost 170,000 pounds and landing even at small forward airbases with semi-prepared runways, the four-engine rugged C-17s can transport tanks and troops over 2,400 nautical miles.

With mid-air refueling, C-17s can go even longer distances. Along with the C-130J `Super Hercules' aircraft already being inducted, the C-17s will play a significant role in countering China's massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, which includes five fully-operational airbases in Tibet.

That's not all on the US arms deals front. India is already conducting commercial negotiations for the around $1 billion "follow-on contract" for four more P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, eight of which were earlier ordered for $2.1 billion in 2009.

Similarly, negotiations for six more C-130J `Super Hercules' heavy-lift aircraft will begin soon. "IAF has already inducted two of the earlier six C-130Js ordered for $1.2 billion in 2008. Two more will come around July, with the last two in September-October," said the MoD source.

So, if all this is taken into account, US has notched up sales worth around $9 billion to India in the arena of military transport and reconnaissance aircraft alone.