Sunday, July 31, 2011

India’s Fighter Upgrades: Mirage 2000s Finally Get a Deal

In an effort to offset the growing number of age-related combat aircraft retirements, India is engaged in a round of fighter fleet upgrades. In December 2006, India Defence reported that the Indian Air Force was “close to finalizing” a EUR 1.5 billion (about $2 billion) deal to upgrade its fleet of 51 Mirage-2000 ‘Vajra’ fighter jets.

The aim was to give the aircraft, inaugurated into IAF service in 1985-1988, another 20-25 years of service life. Of course, “close to finalizing” means something very different in Indian defense circles than it does elsewhere. It took 4 years before there was even a preliminary agreement, and 5 years later, the negotiated agreement appears to be higher than original reports. So, what is India getting for its money?..

Word is that the upgrade will bring India’s Mirages to the full Mirage 2000v5 Mk 2 standard, including a new RDY-3 radar with greater air-air and air-ground capability, a new night vision compatible all-digital cockpit, and improved electronic warfare systems. These will be tied into a joint tactical information data link system (JTIDS, usually Link 16 compatible but not always), plus helmet-mounted sights for wide-angle heat-seeking missiles. As part of the upgrade, the aircraft will also be equipped with MBDA’s Mica family of medium range missiles.

MBDA was probably unamused by India Defence’s December 2006 description of its wares as “an advanced medium-range missile that is the French counterpart to the more capable American AMRAAM missile” [link added]. While the MICA’s radar-guided version does have mediocre range, it also has a heat-seeking IR version that offers a potent medium range ‘no warning’ targeting option. In either version, it’s an improvement. MICA would replace both India’s existing radar-guided Super 350 MRAAM and Magic-II short-range infrared missiles, offering better performance and range.

Work on the upgrades would be performed by a French-Indian consortium including Dassault (aircraft manufacturer), Thales (weapons systems integrator), MBDA (missiles) and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Contracts and Key Events

July 29/11: India signs the Mirage 2000 fleet upgrade contract with Dassault and Thales. Dassault | Thales Group.

July 12/11: A source in the Indian Air force tells Agence France Presse that:

“The defence secretary has agreed to the proposal put forward by French defence majors Dassault and Thales and (European group) MBDA for the Mirage-2000 retrofit…”

The source states that India’s cabinet committee on security cleared the deal on July 13/11, and added that it’s the 9-year, $2.3-2.4 billion deal discussed earlier. Only the 1st 2 jets will be refitted in France, with the next 2 done by HAL in India under French supervision, and the rest done by HAL. India’s standard 30% industrial offset obligation will apply, but HAL’s workshare is a very substantial percentage.

Some media sources cite India’s rapidly declining fighter fleet numbers as the key impetus for the deal. Of course, that fleet is declining in part because India’s fighter programs are behind schedule, and its procurement programs suffer from extreme slowness and delays. While bureaucrats ponder, entropy and use eats at the existing fleet. Calcutta Telegraph | Economic Times of India | Hindustan Times | Machinist India | AFP via France 24 | Flight International.

June 19/11: IANS reports that top decision-makers in India are split over the Mirage 2000 upgrade proposal, citing its overall cost (note that the report’s math doesn’t add, but see below).

There’s also some grumbling about the short service life that would be left in some airframes after the upgrades are done, based on the promises in the 1982 contract and the quoted 9-year time frame for the work. The more relevant figure, however, is expected flight hours after the upgrade, which may include airframe refurbishment. The general expectation in published reports is about 20-25 years, or about 6,000 – 7,500 more flying hours, but this has not been explicitly broken down in reports we’ve seen.

May 19/11: We’ve heard this before. This time, it may even be true. The Times of India reports that the deal is negotiated, and remains true to the pattern of the first 4-6 upgrades in France, with the rest performed in India by installing delivered kits:

“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…. “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 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.”

That’s about $3.32 billion / EUR 2.33 billion. Or, to put it another way, almost $65 million/ EUR 45.6 million to upgrade and arm each of the IAF’s 51 jets. That price rises further if required new facilities at HAL are added as a project cost. For that kind of money, the IAF could replace its Mirage 2000s with 25-35 more M-MRCA planes (Typhoon or Eurofighter), or about 50 similarly capable new SU-30MKIs. Or, it could bulk up its fleet by replacing the Mirages on a better than 1:1 basis with locally-built HAL Tejas LCA fighters, whose capabilities fall somewhere between existing Mirage 2000s and the proposed upgrade.

Feb 10/11: Still no deal. PTI reports that the Indian Air Force hopes to sign the long-stuck deal by March 2011. Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said that differences over price and legal issues had blocked progress, but “negotiations have been concluded and report has been submitted to the Defence Ministry.” Now the question is whether the contract will be authorized. Deccan Herald.

Dec 6/10: Media reports indicate that France and India have agreed on the basic structure of a EUR 2.1 to 2.2 billion upgrade deal, which reportedly includes EUR 700-900 million for MBDA’s Mica air-to-air missiles. That deal still has not been signed, however, and isn’t expected to be signed until March 2011. Time will tell.

The agreement was announced as part of French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s visit, which also included over $9 billion in nuclear power deals for 3rd-generation advanced European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs). India’s DDI government news | Bloomberg | India’s Business Standard | Economic Times of India | Press TV (video) | Sify | Times of India | Usine Nouvelle [in French] || Text of France-India partnership declaration.

March 1/10: Indian chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik tells the Times of India that a final deal on the Mirage 2000 upgrades:

”....should happen shortly…. A French team will be coming again in early-March to finalise the details. The CNC (contract negotiation committee) should conclude in another two months. The Cabinet Committee on Security’s approval will then be sought.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a visit to India later in 2010, which is usually a convenient time to sign deals like this. DID readers should be cautioned, however, that to India’s defense procurement bureaucracy, “soon” can just as easily mean “several years from now.”

Oct 16/09: India’s Business Standard reports that the Mirage 2000 upgrade deal may have fallen through. The beneficiary would be the MMRCA competition for 126+ medium fighters, but Dassault may have hurt its chances there, too:

“According to senior IAF sources, Dassault has refused to reduce its quota of Rs 10,000 crore ($2.1 billion) for extending the service life of the IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet by fitting new radars and avionics. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) considers this price – Rs 196 crore ($41 million) per aircraft – unacceptably high…. [and] is veering around to the view that the Mirage-2000 fleet should continue service in its current form. After six squadrons (126 aircraft) of MMRCAs have entered IAF service, an additional two squadrons [DID: about 40-44 planes] of MMRCAs would be built to replace the 51 Mirage-2000 fighters. That amounts to a 40 per cent rise in the MMRCA’s numbers [DID: more like 32-35%; even 48 planes would be only 38%].

Israeli aerospace companies have reportedly entered the fray, offering to upgrade the Mirage-2000 for half the price being quoted by Dassault. The MoD, however, is not inclined to accept that offer [due to bureaucratic rules that require the OEM to perform upgrades].

....The IAF, traditionally a staunch supporter of Dassault and the Mirage-2000 fighter, is apparently changing its views. Dassault, say pilots, has badly damaged its credibility during the recent negotiations by arm-twisting the IAF over the supply of spares for the Mirage-2000 fleet.”

July 14/09: As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for Paris, The Times of India reports that India resolved their differences over the initial asking price of Rs 14,000 crore (INR 140 billion, about EUR 2.5 billion 2 years ago), and are now all set to ink a Rs 10,000 crore (INR 100 billion, about EUR 1.795 billion/ $2.475 billion) deal to upgrade the IAF’s 55-60 Mirage 2000s. The structure reportedly involves 4-6 aircraft upgraded in France, with the rest upgraded in India by HAL.

“Under the upgrade, the entire airframe will be stripped down to be re-wired and re-equipped with new avionics, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites and of course weapon systems to extend and enhance the operational life of the multi-role fighters.”

Indian troops led France’s big Bastille Day parade in Paris, and the visit is also reported to include discussions regarding civil nuclear energy cooperation, coastal security monitoring equipment, French proposals for joint development of short-range anti-aircraft missiles, and ongoing competitions involving French A330 aerial tankers and Rafale fighter jets. See also follow-on reports, many of which place the Mirage deal at Rs 9,500 crore: Calcutta Telegraph | Economic Times of India | The Hindu | Sify

Feb 8/09: IANS quotes Thales’ head of solutions for governments sector, Pierre-Yves Chaltiel:

“Pointing out that the technical and programme issues relating to the Mirage-2000 upgrade ‘have been discussed and agreed (to)’, Chaltiel said: ‘We have put everything in place with all our Indian industrial partners, through the transfer of knowledge and technology, for the Indian industry to be in full capacity during the execution phases of the programme.’ “

What’s still missing, are a decision and and contract.

Nov 7/08: IANS reports progress toward a deal. Thales has reportedly offered to deliver the first 2 aircraft from its facilities in France within 40 months of signing, while it helped HAL upgrade 2 more aircraft in India to gain familiarity. Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one aircraft every month, for 47 months. IANS:

”...the IAF is known to have been considering the upgrade for at least two years but floated a request for proposal (RFP) only in April, to which Thales replied in July. Price negotiations are set to begin later this month.”

Pierre-Yves Chaltiel, senior vice president for Thales aerospace government programs, is quoted in another report as saying that “The project is part of a broader strategic partnership between France and India to be implemented under a government-to-government agreement.” Even so, the IANS report adds that another 2-year delay is quite possible:

”...another Thales official pointed out that a decision on the upgrade would have to be taken by the end of this year so that the project could begin early 2009, ahead of the parliamentary polls that are due by May but could be advanced to February.

“Our experience, not only with India but with other countries also, has been that if an election comes in the way, a decision on a project like this can be delayed by at least two years,” the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.”

Aug 5/08: In 1982, Dassault and the IAF signed a maintenance contract for India’s Mirage 2000 aircraft. That agreement was due for renewal 25 years later, in 2007. Now, India Defence reports that a new agreement has been reached, after a 6-month negotiating stalemate that was moving toward court action:

“Ministry sources said a six-month stalemate between the two sides was finally broken when the Indian side acceded to the French company’s demands pertaining to charges on liquidated damages. Half of the Air Force’s 46 Mirage 2000-H aircraft faced grounding had the stalemate persisted, a service official said. Dassault had insisted on renewing the maintenance contract only if liquidated charges are calculated at the rate of 0.5 percent of the total contract on a monthly basis. The Defence Ministry wanted the 0.5 percent to be calculated per week.”

Dassault reportedly got its way on this issue after threatening to take the matter to the courts, which would have created very long delays to repairs and probably would have grounded the fleet.

Biggest deal: IAF may buy 189 jets for $20bn

The "mother" could well become the "granny" of all defence deals in the years ahead. India is likely to go in for another 63 fighters after delivery of the first 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) if the "timelines" for its other fighter development projects are not met, say top defence officials.

When the MMRCA selection process was initiated by the defence ministry in mid-2007, the overall project cost was pegged at Rs 42,000 crore, or $10.4 billion for 126 fighters. But it will zoom well beyond $20 billion, if India eventually decides to opt for 189 jets since inflation is also being factored in. Even with 126 jets, this is the biggest such fighter contract going around the world as of now.

This comes even as MoD is all set to open the commercial bids of the two jets left in the MMRCA fray —French Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon —"within a week or two"। Eurofighter Typhoon is backed by the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy.

MoD has already rejected "any scope for comeback" by the other four jets, including the
American F/A-18s and F-16s, ejected out of the MMRCA race in April on technical grounds after gruelling field trials.

"We are looking for only 126 fighters. The first 18 jets will come from abroad, while the rest 108 will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd after transfer of technology (ToT) from end-2016 or early-2017 onwards," said a senior MoD official on Monday.

"But yes, if the timelines for the Tejas LCA (light combat aircraft) and the stealth Indo-Russian FGFA (fifth-generation fighter aircraft) projects are not met, we will go for more MMRCA to retain IAF's combat edge," he added.

Apart from progressively inducting 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted from Russia for around $12 billion, IAF is slated to induct the first lot of 120 indigenous Tejas from end-2013 onwards. India also hopes to begin inducting 250 to 300 FGFA from 2020 onwards under the joint project with Russia, which rough calculations show will eventually cost India around $35 billion in the decades ahead.

But that is in the future. The request for proposal (RFP) for the ongoing MMRCA competition, issued in August 2007, did have the standard clause of India reserving the option to go in for 50% more fighters, over and above the initial 126, in the coming years.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It’s official: Sachin, Dhoni to take off on Sukhois

The city will host two of India’s iconic cricketers—batting legend Sachin Tendulkar and team skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni — when they fly the Indian Air Force fighter jet, Su-30 MKI, from the Lohegaon Air Force Station. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has given the green signal to the Sukhoi sorties of Tendulkar and Dhoni. As the two are currently abroad, the formalities will be completed depending on their availability. “It is confirmed they will be flying from Pune. A decision on the dates and other formalities will be taken once they return to India, depending on their schedules,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander T K Singha told The Indian Express from New Delhi.

While Tendulkar has been awarded the rank of an Honorary Group Captain by the IAF, Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda had recently recommended Dhoni’s name to the MoD for the rank of an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army. In January, Air Marshal Anjan Kumar Gogoi, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, South Western Air Command, had said during a visit to Lohegaon Air Force Station that a proposal for Tendulkar’s Sukhoi sortie had been sent to the MoD and if approved, it would take place from Pune. Dhoni’s sortie has, however, come as a pleasant surprise. “We will try to plan the sorties together. The duo will have to undergo medical tests and attend briefing sessions before the flight. They would be flying from the rear seat,” said Singha.

The Lohegaon Air Force Station, which houses three squadrons of Su-30 MKIs, hosted the then president A P J Abdul Kalam’s sortie in 2006. In 2009, President Pratibha Patil too took a sortie in a Su- 30 MKI.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The fifth and sixth production models of the F-35 Lightning II, F-35A AF-10 and AF-11

The fifth and sixth production models of the F-35 Lightning II, F-35A AF-10 and AF-11, completed their inaugural flights on 29 June and 1 July 2011, respectively, from NAS Fort Worth JRB. (AF-11 first flight shown in photo.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

1,000th F-35 Flight

Lt. Col. Leonard Kearl was at the controls for the 1,000th F-35 flight on 20 June 2011. The 1.8-hour flight, completed in F-35A AF-6, originated from Edwards AFB, California.

India nears attack helicopter decision

The Indian Air Force is close to choosing between the AH-64D and the Mi-28NE, with a decision anticipated in the next two months, according to Apache manufacturer Boeing.

Speaking at the Paris Air Show, Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft, confirmed that both the flying tests and written evaluations of both aircraft had been submitted and a winner was likely to emerge in the third quarter of 2011.

If this timeframe is met, deliveries would start from 2014, with the first operational units being fielded in 2015.

Chadwick said a winner was also expected to emerge for the Indian Air Force's tender for 15 heavy lift helicopters by the end of the year, in a competition which pitches Boeing's CH-47F against the Mil Mi-26T2.

‘For the attack helicopter, the trials have completed, they completed the written evaluations and we expect it will be announced in within the next few months. On the heavy helicopter, that's about six months out - they have finished the flight evaluations and now they have to go through the process of the written evaluations and make a decision later this fall,' he said.

Chadwick was bullish about the future of the Chinook, noting that a $130 million capital investment in its Philadelphia production line, raising production to six per month, was a reflection of the reality that ‘if they can build more, they can sell more'.

Boeing is currently working with the US Army on its second multi-year contract for 155 CH-47F aircraft, with contract award expected in January 2013.

Chadwick was also upbeat about Bell's decision to fully hand the reins of the BA609 civil tiltrotor over to AgustaWestland, noting that its partner on the Bell-Boeing V-22 tiltrotor would be be able to devote greater focous to that programme.

‘Across rotorcraft there really is a clear dividing line between the commercial applications and military applications. Obviously we are not in the commercial business - it is a different business model. On the defence side, from Boeing's perspective I think this is great because now Bell will be focused 100% on the defence side of the tiltrotor business,' he argued.

He said that tiltrotor technology was expected to underpin Boeing's approach to the US Department of Defense's Joint Multirole (JMR) programme.

‘If you look at rotorcraft there are two differentiators - speed and reliability. And our whole focus and internal investment, and when we partner with others, has been focused on how do you take that and move it to the left, because it is a disruptive technology.

‘At this point in time all our investment has been internal and proprietary. Do I have Sikorsky (X2) like product I am going to roll out next week, no, but we have significantly invested in that area.'

Defence brass split over French Mirage upgrade deal

With the $2.4 billion Mirage-2000 upgrade deal with France in its final stages, India's defence ministry and air force top brass seem to be split over the high costs and likely benefits to the country's future air power needs.

With the contract papers said to be headed to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the volume against the deal is rising, top officials told IANS here.

Among points of contention is the deal cost to upgrade the 52 Mirage-2000 combat aircraft by French company Dassault Aviation. Taking into account $1 billion for new weapons and another $500 million for new facilities at Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the upgrade, the cost could rise to $3.9 billion, the officials said.

"The upgrade programme will cost the Indian exchequer $7.9 million per Mirage-2000 aircraft. But India is buying 126 new Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) under a $10.4 billion tender that is to be finalised in this fiscal.

"The cost of the new fourth generation fighter jet works out to $7.9 million per plane. Is it prudent to pay the same price for a swanky new plane and just an upgrade programme for a 25-year-old plane?" said a senior defence ministry official.

Confirming the raging debate, Indian Air Force (IAF) officers said this was the reason the contract has not seen the light of the day yet, though it has been in the pipeline for years now.

There was a strong push for the deal when French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visited India in December 2010 and the country's Defence Minister Gerard Longuet was here in May this year.

Among the upgrades planned for Mirage-2000 under the contract include night vision goggle compatible glass cockpit, advanced navigational systems, advanced Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) system, advanced multi-mode multi-layered radar, fully integrated electronic warfare suite and advanced beyond visual range (BVR) capability. The new weapons include 450 MICA interception and aerial combat missiles.

French firms Thales and MBDA will be the weapons systems integrator and missiles supplier respectively.

"In fact, Thales and MBDA were initially quoting much more," said IAF officers. "But even at this cost and age, an upgraded Mirage can operate efficiently for another 20 years and still be a potent, frontline fighter jet. The upgrade of the Mirages would provide it a fourth generation combat jet capability," the officers told IANS, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

India bought 52 Mirage-2000s in 1982 and fully inducted these into the IAF in 1986. Two of the planes will be upgraded in France, another two in India with French help, and the rest 48 entirely by HAL.

Another issue is the nine-year timeframe given by Dassault, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of Mirages, to complete the upgrade.

"In comparison, the same firm is quoting deliveries of just six years if it wins the MMRCA deal, on the lines of what its competitor in the final fray, EADS, too has quoted," officials noted.

"Not only will the upgraded Mirages cost as much as a brand new twin-engine fourth generation fighter, but some of the Mirages will be 35 years old by the time they are upgraded," they said.

Dassault, officials said, had in the original 1982 contract guaranteed 30-year plus 10-year life for the planes. "Thus the upgraded Mirages will have just another five years of service left, provided there is no time or cost over-runs. Then why spend a fortune?" they asked.

IAF officers also noted that Israel had also offered to upgrade the Mirages, but at half the price. But the defence ministry quoted an old policy that only OEMs could carry out an upgrade.

"The same ministry has called for competitive bids in recent months for equally complex fighter aircraft, particularly those from Russian or erstwhile Soviet stable," they said.