Friday, October 5, 2012

France accepts first AESA-equipped Rafale

Dassault and its industry partners on the Rafale combat aircraft have achieved a significant programme milestone with the delivery of the first production example to feature an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Handed over to France's DGA defence procurement agency at Dassault's Merignac assembly site on 2 October, single-seat aircraft C137 will enter French air force service with the Thales RBE2 radar. The DGA says it will be delivered to Mont-de-Marsan air base "in the coming days".


Delivery of the first RBE2 has been achieved "on time and on budget", Dassault and Thales say in a joint statement. A schedule outlined last year calls for the new array to be ready to enter frontline use in mid-2013, and to equip the latest batch of 60 aircraft on order for the French air force and navy. The new F3-04T-standard fighter also has improved front sector optronics equipment from Thales and the DDM-NG passive missile approach warning system, produced by MBDA.

The Rafale has gained an operational AESA sensor before European rivals the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen, its developers note. Also included in French proposals to export the so-called "omnirole" platform to Brazil and India, the RBE2 offers increased detection range, improved reliability and reduced maintenance demands versus the radar's earlier passive array.

A total of 111 Rafales have been delivered so far from combined orders for 180 aircraft, according to the DGA. This includes 36 M-model examples for the French navy and 37 Cs and 38 two-seater Bs for the air force.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Massive military helicopter buys allow for indigenisation

The Indian Air Force (IAF) purchase of 126 Rafale fighters has made global headlines, and the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) could be another jaw-dropper. But Indian military aviation could see an even more prominent growth area in helicopters, where the defence services are poised to induct well over 1,000 rotary wing aircraft in the coming decade, the majority of them developed and built in the country.

Already on the anvil for the army, IAF, navy and coast guard are the following:
The IAF is inducting 139 Russian Mi-17 V-5 medium lift helicopters, for an estimated $2.4 billion. The workhorse Mi-17, which transports 26 soldiers in combat gear, or four tonnes of supplies to high altitude posts, has been in IAF service for decades, but the new-model V-5 is a vastly superior machine, with new engines, rotor blades and avionics. An IAF order for 80 Mi-17s is already being delivered, which is likely to be followed by an order for 59 more.

Fifteen American CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters will be bought to replace the IAF’s Russian Mi-26 helicopters, of which just three to four remain serviceable. The Chinook, built by Boeing, has seen extensive combat, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. The IAF has evaluated the helicopter and is pleased with its avionics and power, which allows it to accurately deliver 50 fully-equipped soldiers, or a payload of 12.7 tonnes, on to the roof of a house or the edge of a cliff.

The IAF has also completed trials for the purchase of 22 medium attack helicopters, and homed on to Boeing’s AH-64 Apache. Attack helicopters, which operate from close behind the forward troops, provide immediate fire support — cannons, rockets and anti-tank missiles — to soldiers that encounter the enemy, providing them a battle-winning advantage. Unlike most other countries, India has chosen not to use attack helicopters in counter-insurgency operations for fear of collateral damage.

The IAF and army have also placed a Rs 7,000-crore order for 159 Dhruv Mark III utility helicopters. These have been designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which builds 36 Dhruvs each year. There is an estimated need for more than 350 Dhruvs for the Army, IAF, coast guard and paramilitary forces.

The Navy is buying an additional 50 light, twin-engine helicopters, most probably from AgustaWestland. The Dhruv does not meet its needs since its composite rotors cannot be folded up for stowing the helicopter in a warship’s tight confines.

In addition, the navy is procuring another 91 medium, multi-role helicopters to replace its vintage Sea King fleet, which flies from larger frigates and destroyers. A global tender is out for 16 helicopters, to which another 75 have been added.

Riding on the Dhruv’s success is HAL’s Rudra, a heavily armed version of the Dhruv, which carries a cannon, rocket pods, anti-tank missiles and a full suite of electronic warfare (EW) equipment. The army and the air force will buy 76 Rudras.

HAL is also developing the Light Combat Helicopter, of which 179 are on order (IAF 65; army 114). This 5.5-tonne light armed helicopter features the Shakti engine, the Dhruv’s dynamic components (main rotor, tail rotor, and the gearbox), and the weapons suite that is being developed on the Rudra. The LCH will be a high altitude virtuoso: taking off from Himalayan altitudes of 10,000 feet, firing guns and rockets up to 16,300 feet, and launching missiles at UAVs flying at over 21,000 feet.

The military’s other bulk requirement is for 384 light utility helicopters, or LUH’s, to replace the army and IAF’s obsolescent Cheetahs and Chetaks. This has been divided into two streams: 197 LuHs are being bought off-the-shelf through a global tender; and 187 LuHs are being developed and built in India by HAL. To ensure timely delivery, the Ministry of Defence has specified target dates for HAL’s development milestones: building of a mock-up; the design freeze; the first flight; Initial Operational Clearance, and so on. Each time HAL misses a milestone, its order reduces from 187.

Unlike IAF’s fixed wing aircraft acquisition plan that focuses on foreign buys, its rotary wing plan leans towards indigenisation. This after a strategic assessment in the mid-1990s, when Ashok Baweja was HAL’s chairman, that indigenisation could be realistically pursued in the less challenging rotary wing field than in the cutting-edge realm of fighter aircraft.

This policy drew strength from the technological breakthroughs of the Dhruv helicopter and the Turbomeca-HAL Shakti engine. Both these were optimised for high altitude operations up to 20,000 feet, a unique feature in the army’s operating environment.

P Soundara Rajan, HAL’s helicopter chief, says the Bangalore-based division will ramp up turnover from the current 10 per cent of HAL’s turnover to 25 per cent a decade from now. Having taken 40 years to build its first 700 helicopters, which were basic second-generation machines, HAL aims at building another 700 fourth-generation within the next 15-20 years.

Delays and challenges for Indo-Russian fighter

Seven years before its scheduled completion, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has already announced a two-year delay in the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) India and Russia are to jointly develop.

Defence Minister A K Antony has been saying the FGFA would join the Indian Air Force by 2017. On Monday, his deputy, M M Pallam Raju, told Parliament, “The fifth generation aircraft is scheduled to be certified by 2019, following which the series production will start.”

The FGFA is the flagship of the Indo-Russian partnership. Both countries say it would be the world’s most advanced fighter. But interviews with Indian designers who have overseen the project suggest significant disquiet. There is apprehension the FGFA would significantly exceed its current $6 million budget, because this figure reflects the expenditure on just the basic aircraft. Crucial avionics systems would cost extra.

On the positive side, Indian designers say the FGFA project would provide invaluable experience in testing and certifying a heavy fighter aircraft that is bigger and more complex than the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), India’s foundational aerospace achievement.

The Russian and Indian air forces each plan to build about 250 FGFAs, at an estimated cost of $100 million per fighter. That adds up to $25 billion each, in addition to the development cost.

The FGFA’s precursor has already flown. In January 2010, Russian company Sukhoi test-flew a prototype called the PAK-FA, the acronym for Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (literally prospective aircraft complex of frontline aviation). Now, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will partner Sukhoi to transform the bare-bones PAK-FA into an FGFA that meets the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s requirements of stealth (near-invisibility to radar), super-cruise (supersonic cruising speed), networking (real-time digital links with other battlefield systems) and world-beating airborne radar that outranges enemy fighters.

But Sukhoi insists the PAK-FA already meets Russia’s requirements, says N C Agarwal, HAL’s design chief, who spearheaded the FGFA negotiations until his recent retirement. HAL worries Russia might ask India to pay extra for further development, particularly the avionics that transform a mere flying machine into a lethal weapons platform. That would leave the $6-billion budget in tatters.

The IAF clearly wants a top-of-the-line FGFA. According to Ashok Nayak, who spoke to Business Standard as HAL’s chairman before retiring last October, the IAF has specified 40-45 improvements that must be made to the PAK-FA. These have been formalised into an agreed list between Russia and India, the Tactical Technical Assignment.

A key IAF requirement is a ‘360-degree’ AESA (airborne electronically scanned active) radar, rather than the AESA radar that Russia developed. Either way, India would pay Russia extra: either in licence fee for the Russian radar; or hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, for developing a world-beating, 360-degree AESA radar.

Nor is the IAF clear on whether the FGFA should be a single-seat fighter like the PAK-FA, or a twin-seat aircraft like the Sukhoi-30MKI. A section of the IAF backs a single-seat fighter, while another prefers two pilots for flying and fighting a complex, networked fighter. During the ongoing preliminary design phase (PDP), for which India paid $295 million, the two sides would determine whether developing the PAK-FA into a twin-seat aircraft (inevitably more bulky) would reduce the FGFA’s stealth and performance unacceptably.

“The single-seat FGFA is essential for the IAF, and we will transform the Russian single-seat fighter into our single-seat version with a large component of Indian avionics. The twin-seat version will depend on the PDP conclusions,” says Nayak.

The PDP also requires Sukhoi to hand over design documentation to HAL, providing it a detailed insight into the design processes of the PAK-FA. Since India took years to decide to join the FGFA project, HAL missed out the design phase entirely.

The 18-month PDP, which terminates this year, will be followed by the ‘R&D phase’, which could take another seven years, says the HAL chairman. The FGFA would be designed in both countries. About 100 HAL engineers already operate from a facility in Bangalore. Another contingent would move to Russia to work in the Sukhoi design bureau.

“Our boys will learn the Russian language, their way of working, their design rules and their design norms. We are left-hand drive, while they are right-hand drive. The Russians say they would part with all these things,” says Nayak.

But the most valuable learning, say HAL executives, would take place during the FGFA’s flight-testing. “Unlike the basic design phase which we missed out on, we will actually gain experience during flight testing. This phase throws up dozens of problems, and we will participate in resolving these, including through design changes,” says Agarwal.

HAL designers also relish the FGFA’s specific challenges. For achieving stealth, its missiles, rockets and reconnaissance payloads are concealed in an internal bay under the wings. Before using these, a door slides open, exposing the weapon for use.

The Russians clearly believe HAL possesses useful capabilities, including the ability to design the AESA radar. Also attractive is India’s experience in composites.

“The LCA programme has generated a high level of expertise in composite materials within the National Aerospace Laboratory and some joint teams. The FGFA requires ‘higher modulus’ composites, which can withstand the 120-130 degree Centigrade temperatures that arise whilst flying at Mach 1.7 speeds,” says Agarwal.

Despite the continuing imponderables, HAL believes the FGFA project provides genuine technological skills, far more useful than licensed manufacture. Agarwal says, “We will pay some $6-7 billion to France for the licence to build the Rafale in HAL. In the FGFA project, a similar sum would bring in genuine design knowledge that will help us in the future.”

Pilatus PC-7 MK II clinches India basic trainer contract: reports

Media reports from India indicate that the Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the purchase of 75 Pilatus PC-7 MK II basic trainers, a major step to filling the Indian air force's profound capability gap in training.

The committee, headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh, reportedly approved the basic trainer deal in its weekly Thursday meeting.

If the news is confirmed, it will be welcome news for the Indian air force, which stands to receive 75 PC-7 MK IIs produced by Pilatus in Switzerland, followed by an additional 106 produced locally by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Under current plans, Pilatus will be required to deliver an initial batch of 12 aircraft within two years of a contract signature.

The selection comes just one week after India's defence ministry announced that it dismissed an 11th hour protest by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) about the selection procedure.

Last year, an industry source familiar with the competition told Flightglobal that Pilatus had surprised rivals by pitching the PC-7 MK II, a less advanced - and less expensive - basic trainer than the company's PC-21.

Other types that underwent technical trials by the Indian air force include the Airbus Military-promoted PZL-130 Orlik, Alenia Aermacchi M-311, Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, Grob G120TP, KAI KT-1 and Raytheon T-6 Texan.

Separately, defence minister AK Antony told parliament that the air force is increasing its simulator capabilities. The force has procured four simulators for the BAE Systems Hawk 132 advanced jet trainer.

The air force has also contracted for eight simulators for the HAL HJT-36 intermediate jet trainer (IJT), although this type's service entry continues to suffer delays.

India also wants to develop an indigenous replacement for the HPT-32. At 2011's Aero India show, a model of the proposed HTT-40 was on display at the HAL stand.

The HTT-40 will have an 11m (36ft) wing span, a fuselage length of 11.3m and a maximum take-off weight of 2,800kg (6,170lb). The type will be capable of flying at a maximum speed of 243kt (450km/h) and at altitudes of up to 19,700ft.

Air force rookie pilots to train on Swiss aircraft

Decks cleared for purchase of 75 Pilatus aircraft at the cost of Rs 1,800 crore

The Defence Ministry (MoD) is pressing ahead with the Rs 1,800 crore purchase of seventy-five PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft from Pilatus Aircraft Ltd of Switzerland. For the last one year, the purchase of desperately needed trainers for the Indian Air Force has been stalled by a protest from a rival vendor, Korea Aerospace Industries. KAI alleged that Pilatus’ bid was incomplete and, therefore, did not conform to the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2008 (DPP-2008) that governs this tender.

Now the MoD has ruled Pilatus’ bid valid. Today, in a written reply submitted to the Rajya Sabha, Defence Minister A K Antony stated that, “A representation submitted by M/s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), one of the bidders, has been found to be devoid of merit.”

As Business Standard reported last month (“Pressure mounts for air force basic trainer aircraft”, April 15, 2012) the Korean government had strongly backed KAI’s protest against awarding the contract to Pilatus. The South Korean embassy in New Delhi had formally protested; and South Korean defence minister, Kim Kwan-jin, wrote to Antony asking for a “high-level review” of the “allegations on irregularity.”

The decision to go ahead with the purchase is a relief to the IAF, which has resorted to ad hoc — and heavily criticised — methods for training its rookie pilots since July 2009, when its basic trainer fleet of HPT-32 Deepak aircraft was grounded following a fatal crash. The obsolete Deepak trainer has already claimed the lives of 19 pilots in 17 crashes.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, in its report released on Monday, has commented on the “critical deficiency of the trainer aircrafts” (sic), pointing out that the IAF was making do with just 255 trainers out of the 434 that had entered service (including basic, intermediate and advanced trainers). Highlighting the IAF’s accident rate, the Committee noted that, “as per the replies furnished by the ministry, in the 46 per cent of the cases the cause behind accident of aircraft is Human Error (Aircrew)” (sic).

The Committee also noted that training simulators are in short supply, with just 30 of the IAF’s 46 training simulators operational.

In addition to buying 75 Pilatus trainers in fly-away condition from Switzerland, the IAF has asked Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to develop an indigenous trainer aircraft (dubbed the Hindustan Turbo Trainer–40, or HTT-40), and to build 106 of those trainers for the IAF.

But the MoD and HAL have dragged their feet on this indigenous project, says Pushpindar Singh, editor of Vayu aerospace magazine. “Since HAL has made little headway so far, they could end up building 106 PC-7 Mark II trainers under licence from Pilatus, instead of developing an indigenous trainer. That would be an opportunity lost,” says Singh.

Indicating that the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II might soon be available to the IAF, Antony told Parliament that the MoD would stick to laid down procurement timelines. The purchase, he said, “is awaiting consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).”

The Pilatus trainer will overcome the key shortfalls of the HPT-32, which did not even have an ejection system; in emergencies, pilots ejected manually. Poor instrumentation and avionics restricted training to good weather. The HPT-32 had no recording equipment, so instructors never knew when trainee pilots, flying solo, had violated flying procedures. The PC-7 Mark II is capable of aerobatics, instrument and night flying and tactical operations. It is a hybrid aircraft, with a PC-9 airframe mated with a smaller, PC-7 engine to lower procurement, flying and maintenance costs. It is in service with several air forces, including South Africa and Malaysia.

Ukraine on Brink of Missile Deal with India

Ukraine is close to signing one of its biggest ever defense deals for air-to-air missiles with India, according to Russian media reports.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta says the deal for R-27 missiles, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, is in the final stages and is waiting for approval from the Ukrainian leadership.

The Vympel R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) missile is a medium-to-long-range air-to-air missile developed by the Soviet Union. It is similar to U.S. AIM-7 Sparrow.

The missile comes in infrared-homing (R-27T), semi-active-radar-homing (R-27R), and active-radar-homing (R-27AE) versions. It would be fitted to India’s MiG-29 and Su-30 fighter jets.

While the deal has not been confirmed officially, the paper quotes a source close to Ukraine’s national security and defense council, saying both nations are sensitive to Russian concerns over the deal and want to make sure that it would not irritate Moscow.

Tensions between Kiev and Moscow could arise later because if the deal is successful, India may want to buy other weaponry from Ukraine, entering a market dominated by Russia, defense analysts quoted by the paper said.

Some industry experts believe Moscow would not oppose the deal as the Ukrainian company is the only manufacturer of these missiles, although Russian firms supply some components for R-27.

The R-27 was originally designed by Vympel, a Russian missile design bureau, in the 1980s. Vympel is now part of Russia's Tactical Missiles Corporation, which now produces successor weapons to R-27.

Artem, a Ukrainian arms firm involved in R-27 production in Ukraine, could not be reached for comment.

Ukrainian R-27s displayed by the Artem and Arsenal companies at the Moscow air show in 2011 featured what the makers claimed were upgraded seekers. Arsenal said it had developed a new infra-red seeker for the R-27 extending its detection range from 18 km to 30 km.

New Delhi showed interest at the recent DEFEXPO-2012 arms show in Ukrainian anti-tank missiles and new engines for Mi-family helicopters produced by the Ukrainian Motor Sich company, according to Ukrainian officials.

Russia to Show New Tank in India

Russia will display a prototype model of its new T-90S tank at the Defexpo 2012 arms exhibition in India later this week, arms firm Rosoboronexport delegation head Viktor Komardin said on Monday.

"This new tank will be the gem of the show," Komardin said. "Its first foreign presentation will be the main event," he added.

"The Indian Army already operates the T-90, so its modernized variant - which, by the way is an absolutely new machine - will be of great potential interest to the Indians," he said.

The show will take place in Delhi from March 29 to April 1.

India has overtaken China as the world's largest conventional arms buyer in the last five years, according to a report from the Swedish Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released last week. India spent $12.7 billion on weapons in that period, 80 percent of which came from Russia.

India and Russia to Develop Hypersonic Cruise Missile

Russia and India are in talks to jointly develop a hypersonic cruise missile and will soon agree on a general outline of the design, the head of the BrahMos Indian-Russian cruise missile program, Praveen Pathak, said on Friday at the Defexpo defense show in Delhi.

"In the near future, we will set up a joint working group which will work out the parameters of the missile in cooperation with developers, and also decide how much each side will contribue to the project," Pathak said.

The weapon will be capable of flying at Mach 5-Mach 7 speeds, he said.

"We want to create a weapon which would not differ much from the existing BrahMos missile in weight and dimensions, so that it could be used in existing launchers on ships or mobile launchers. In this case it would not take too much work to convert such systems to hypersonic," he said.

"Russia has a longstanding interest in high-speed weaponry and scramjet propulsion, which an Indo-Russian programme could draw on," said Douglas Barrie, air warfare analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The design of a genuine hypersonic missile, given the performance requirements, would likely be 'new' rather than using the present 3M55 Onyx/Brahmos design which uses a ramjet for sustained supersonic flight," he added.

India's Defence Research and Development Organization has previously displayed a demonstrator model of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator at airshows. NPO Mashinostroeniye, India's partner in the BrahMos program, developed a hypersonic missile known as 3M25 Meteorit, but it was never deployed.

India will also carry out the first test-firing of the air-launched variant of the BrahMos Russian-Indian supersonic cruise missile by the end of this year, Pathak said.

"We hope by the end of the year we'll carry out the first launch from an aircraft. It will be an air-launch," he said.

Work on adapting the air-launched variant of BrahMos to arm India's Su-30MKI aircraft is being undertaken for the Indian air force, he said. Several aircraft have already been modified to carry the weapon, he added.

Su-30MKI (Flanker-H) multirole fighter

The Indian air force has already taken delivery of enough of the ground-launched variant to equip  two battalions. The missiles will be based near India's borders to strike at enemy airfields, air defense sites and radar stations, said Pathak.

India tested a ground-launched BrahMos earlier this month. "The missile flew its maximum range, 290 km. The terminal phase of the flight was a steep diving trajectory. This is one of the requirements for the ground forces," he said, adding that a steep diving attack profile was necessary for hitting targets in mountainous terrain.

BrahMos, a derivative of the Russian NPO Mashinostroeniye 3M55 Yakhont naval cruise missile, is one of the most capable weapons of its class, combining long-range (up to 290 km), high speed (up to Mach 2.8) a heavy warhead of up to 250 kg, a low radar profile and a variable attack profile, including low level flight down to 10 meters and up to 14,000 meters. The weapon operates on a fire-and-forget principle.

The ground-launched variant weighs around three tons at launch.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Russia to sell off 18 fighter planes that India rejected

Minsk : Russia is to put up for sale a batch of 18 Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighter aircraft, rejected by India on concerns about their engines and returned to Russia in 2003, a defense official said Wednesday.

"The 18 Su-30s previously used by India and then returned, are in an aviation repair plant in Belarus and are on sale to potential buyers," said Alexander Fomin, deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. He added that the aircraft could be modernized before being sold on.

The Su-30MKI is India's lead fighter aircraft, and around 140 have been produced under license by HAL Aeronautics in India. The Indian Air Force is expected to buy a total of around 280 during the next decade.

Development of the Su-30 began in the 1980s for the Soviet armed forces, based on the Su-27UB conversion trainer.

The first batch of 18 Su-30s delivered to India were Su-30MK and Su-30K standard, and were built to a lower specification than the later Su-30MKI. This meant that they did not have thrust-vectoring engine nozzles or canard foreplanes, enabling extra maneuverability.

Their avionics systems were also built to a lower specification than the later Su-30MKIs built by HAL, which included a high level of Israeli and French-built systems.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

India readies to select mid-air refueler

New Delhi : India is readying to select the winner of the $2-billion tender for six mid-air refuelers for its air force, with both the contending planes from European consortium EADS Airbus and Russian Ilyushin clearing the flight trials.

According to informed sources, the Indian defence ministry is now considering the bids to arrive at the lowest bidder in the tender issued in September 2010. India is looking for six refuelers.

The tender had been reissued by the government after the Airbus' A330MRTT was selected by the Indian Air Force as the winner of an earlier tender in 2009.

But the finance ministry objected to the "high cost" for the A330MRTT. So the tender was cancelled in January 2010.

"After three trials in November, we have been informed that we are compliant with the specifications mentioned in the tender," Airbus Defence Capability Marketing vice president Ian Elliot told reporters here.

Ilyushin too has been found complaint, the sources said.

Asked about the finance ministry objections during the previous tendering process, Elliot said the concerns were relating to "capital investment cost."

But now, the lowest bidder for the tender will be worked out on the basis of life cycle cost of operating the plane over several decades.

During flight trials, Airbus had demonstrated midair refueling of Indian Air Force's Sukhoi-30 and Jaguar combat planes on its A330MRTT.

It also similarly demonstrated refueling of Mirage-2000s while contesting the United Arab Emirates tender. India has a fleet of nearly 50 Mirage-2000s. India also has a six-aircraft fleet of IL-78s.

Sukhoi Su-30SM: An Indian Gift to Russia’s Air Force

Russia’s Defense Ministry has ordered 30 heavy Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter planes. Given that the same model has been exported to India for more than 10 years, this choice seems both logical and pragmatic.

Thirty 30’s

The Defense Ministry and the Irkut Corporation, an affiliate of the United Aircraft Corporation, have signed a supply contract for 30 Su-30SM multirole fighter aircraft, a Defense Ministry spokesman told journalists Thursday, March 22. “Under the contract, Irkut Corporation will build for Russia’s Ministry of Defense 30 planes of this type by 2015,” he said.

Rumors that Irkut, a long-standing exporter, may supply several dozen fighter aircraft to the Russian Air Force began circulating late last year. Now the rumor has become a reality – a contract in black and white.

But why did the Defense Ministry choose the Su-30’s? After all, they have been mostly supplied to customers abroad rather than to the Russian Armed Forces, where just a few planes of this type are in use.

The Su-30, properly speaking, is an entire family of aircraft and the most famous Russian-made (not to be confused with Soviet-made) fighter plane outside of Russia. It was developed in the Soviet Union on the basis of the Su-27UB combat trainer aircraft as a command plane for Air Defense air regiments flying ordinary Su-27 interceptor aircraft.

In 1993, its export version, the Su-30K, was developed, sparking record demand and the sale of several hundred planes.

The family is further subdivided into two parts: the “Chinese” Su-30MKK/MK2, which were produced in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and exported to Venezuela, Indonesia, Uganda, Vietnam, and of course China; and the “Indian” Su-30MKI, manufactured in Irkutsk and purchased by India, Algeria and Malaysia.

The model ordered by the Russian military is a “localized” version of the “Indian” Su-30MKI. Earlier, Komsomolsk-on-Amur delivered to the Air Force four “localized” Su-30MK2’s.

A flying multi-tasker

As a basic platform for the multirole heavy fighter aircraft, the Su-30MKI is remarkable primarily for its universality. It boasts a so-called “open architecture”, making it relatively easy to add new systems in the basic electronic equipment and to use advanced guided weapons (supplied by different manufacturers).

The Su-30MKI sports a Russian radar and optic locator, French navigation and heads-up display systems, Israeli EW and weapon-guidance systems, and Indian computers.

The “Chinese” line is based on a different logic that prescribes parallel installation of new systems that fall short of full integration.

Most likely, the military is attracted by how easy it is to add different weapons and equipment to the Su-30MKI, transforming it into an attack fighter-bomber, a heavy interceptor aircraft, or something else.

Who placed the order?

It is hard to pinpoint who exactly ordered these 30 aircraft. The contract was signed by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Irkut President Alexei Fedorov. After the signing ceremony, Serdyukov commented that the planes would “increase the Air Force’s combat power.”

By contrast, Fedorov went on record as saying last summer that the Defense Ministry was going to order 40 aircraft. Later the press reported, citing the Irkutsk aircraft plant’s general director Alexander Veprev, that the deliveries were likely to be made in two installments: the first 28 aircraft were intended for the Air Force and another 12 as an option for naval aviation. Air Force C-in-C Alexander Zelin confirmed the figure of 28 in fall 2011.

As we can see, the first batch of Sukhoi-30’s has been purchased. The remaining 12, as some military sources intimated to the press, were intended for the Black Sea Fleet’s naval aviation.

Given that naval aviation has seen cuts in combat aircraft, it seems logical to reinforce it with heavy Su-30SM two-seaters that are efficient both in air-to-air combat and against ground and surface targets.

Thus far, however, there is no mention of plans to buy the Su-30 for the Navy. Possibly the option will be realized later.

Exporters’ courtesy

There is another simple explanation for choice of the Su-30MKI. Irkut has been churning out these planes for 10 years thanks to its completely streamlined production method. This means that its products are of high quality, relatively cheap (which pleases the Defense Ministry in particular) and will be supplied on time.

It is one thing if, in order to make 30 aircraft, you have to breathe life into an idling plant, to fine-tune (or develop anew) your technological method, buy additional equipment, and – still worse – hire personnel. But it’s quite another if you have been manufacturing standardized aircraft for years and years and can easily divert your workforce to produce an “improved” modification for your own country’s Air Force. The cost of this batch on the side is dramatically lower.

This approach (buying quickly and on the cheap what can be produced immediately) has been growing in popularity in the Russian military. We have mentioned the Su-30M2 combat trainer aircraft intended for the Russian Air Force. The same goes for the carrier-based MiG-29K, which in its present form was developed for the Indian Navy.

This approach is logical in its own way. The military expects certain fundamentally new models that are being tested with some degree of success. The Air Force is eying the T-50, the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, and the Navy has been trying to get into shape its Lada project involving the construction of non-nuclear submarines. The Land Forces have boycotted the purchases of all currently existing armor models, urging manufacturers to invent something totally new.

In the meantime, the Armed Forces will buy cheap, mass-produced, well-equipped, if ordinary, military hardware, like the Su-30SM.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

IAF set to induct 6 LCA squadrons

First two Tejas aircraft will be stationed in TN

Giving a big thrust to the indigenous fighter jet programme, Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to induct six squadrons of Tejas light combat aircraft over the next 10 years, which will allow the IAF to pack more punch in its aerial strikes.

“IAF plans to induct six LCA squadrons by the end of the 13th Plan,” minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju said in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

The development phase for LCA (light combat force) began in 1983 and the first technology demonstrator flew in 2001. Four years later, IAF placed the first order of 20 Tejas at a cost of Rs 2,700 crore. Subsequently, it placed order for another squadron.

The first two squadrons – 40 aircraft – of LCA, are first generation Mark-I version. The additional four squadrons would be Tejas Mark-II aircraft with a higher powered engine.

Raju indicated that money would not come in the way of LCA development. The Centre sanctioned Rs 11,845.2 crore to Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) till date while the total expenditure incurred so far is Rs 5,051.46 crore, he said.

Only last week, the penultimate developmental aircraft Tejas limited series production - 7 (LSP-7) successfully undertook its maiden flight from HAL airport. The LSP-7 aircraft, along with LSP- 8 will be offered to the IAF for user evaluation trials.

The LSP-7 flight is also the first time that a LCA maiden flight was not accompanied by the customary chase aircraft, which is an indicator to the level of confidence defence scientists and IAF have in the machine, defence research and development organisation stated. IAF plans to station the first two LCA squadron at Sulur near Coimbatore and Kayathir near Tuticorin.

Indian Air Force has initiated process of inducting 'Tejas': Defence Ministry

The Indian Air Force has initiated the process of inducting Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas' and has placed an order for 40 aircraft with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Defence Ministry told the Rajya Sabha today.

In written reply to a question on development of LCA, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju said, "Action for induction of Tejas into IAF has been initiated. IAF has placed orders for 40 aircraft on HAL... Initial Operational Clearance-1 (IOC-1) for the aircraft was achieved in January, 2011."

On development plans for advance version of the aircraft, Raju said, "Tejas Mark-II aircraft is under development with an alternate higher powered engine with considerable improvements. Final cost assessment will be available only after the development phase of Mark-II is completed."

On cost assessment of Tejas Mark-I, he said the scope for its cost reduction has been examined and the same is assessed as not feasible in view of limited quantities.

Rs 11845.20 crore has been sanctioned by the government to Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) for development of Tejas, and so far a total expenditure of Rs 5051.46 crore has been incurred.

IAF plans to induct six LCA squadrons by the end of the 13th Plan.

While replying to a question on deployment of IAF helicopters in foreign countries, Defence Minister A K Antony said the the information can not be divulged in the interest of strategic concerns.

HAL likely to handover 1st batch of Tejas to IAF by next year

The first batch of the country's indigenously developed light combat aircraft (LCA) "Tejas" was likely to be handed over to the Indian Air Force by next year, a senior Aeronautical Development Agency official said today.

"As far as LCA is concerned, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is the prime agency. Last year they have started production. I hope from next year onwards they (the LCAs) will start entering the service..", Kota Harinarayana, Dr D S Kothari DRDO Chair, ADA, Bangalore, told reporters here.

In the first batch, IAF had placed orders for 40 LCAs. "Airforce has committed about 80 aircraft. Navy also wants similar aircraft", he said.

Harinarayana, former Programme Director for the LCA project at ADA, also mooted integration of auto component companies with HAL.

"See, HAL should not manufacture from bottom to top..that is from pin to aircraft. Pins should be made by pin-specialist. HAL can concentrate on integration. The problem is, there are no Tier I and II companies (to support other products for the construction of an aircraft)..we have to bring in that technology and innovation.", he said.

"The real challenge is we have to bring in technology at low costs which are globally competitive. We should be able to sell it elsewhere in the world", he said.

Earlier, addressing a seminar at the third edition of Tamil Nadu Manufacturing Summit, organised by CII, he said the global aerospace market was estimated to be USD 100 billion and dominated by US and European Union based industries.

In the next 20 years, India would need more than 1,200 aircraft worth USD 100 billion, he said.

He was of the view that Indian companies can enter into an agreement with Tier-I companies of the world so that there could not be any difficulty in bringing such technology to India.

India advances air force modernisation

India's medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition has all the hallmarks of a classic Indian love story, Bollywood-style. In the late 1990s the Indian air force loved its French Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft, and in 2001 said it favoured buying 126 more. But India dithered, Dassault decided to pitch the Rafale instead, and in 2004 New Delhi decided to tender, with five other suitors emerging to woo its air force. Only after a decade of high drama did the service return to the eager arms of its first true love, the French.

More drama may lie ahead. Dassault has confirmed it and partners Snecma and Thales have attained L1 vendor status in the competition, meaning they will eventually enter exclusive negotiations linked to the 126-fighter deal. But while the French are in prime position, there is a long road ahead. Media reports suggest the companies and nations behind the Eurofighter Typhoon are willing to cut their price in a last-ditch attempt to thwart a Rafale deal, and there are persistent rumours the USA hopes India will drop the MMRCA process altogether and buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II instead.

In addition, recent precedents suggest a Dassault win is far from certain. In 2007, Eurocopter was poised to clinch a 197-aircraft tender for light utility helicopters, but the competition was abruptly cancelled owing to allegations of irregularities in the selection process. In another example, New Delhi selected the Airbus Military A330 multi-role tanker transport, but its purchase was cancelled after its finance ministry raised concerns over the price tag.

However entertaining outside observers have found the $10-20 billion MMRCA competition, it is impossible to understate the winner's crucial role in the modernisation of the Indian air force. Despite its significance, however, MMRCA is only one element in a broad effort that also includes major indigenous combat aircraft, a competition for new tankers, and enhanced airlift capabilities. The Indian navy is also modernising, with new aircraft carriers in the pipeline and ambitious plans to improve oversight of India's vast oceanic frontiers.

"Adding a capable, reliable, high-end jet to India's fighter force will be transformational," says Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. "Most of the Indian air force is comprised of either lighter, older planes such as the [Mikoyan] MiG-21 or Sepecat Jaguar, or heavier, but not completely reliable, Sukhoi Su-30s.

"The best part of their fleet is the 50 or so Mirage 2000s, which are almost medium fighters and relatively modern. India has never had a significant force of capable, reliable planes. Whether they get Rafales or Eurofighters, they'll get a significant number of modern, medium/large capable jets. That represents a major qualitative improvement."

Certainty of this qualitative improvement has moved closer with Dassault's coveted L1 status, but it is not yet within the grasp of either the French or their customer. By late February, the Indian defence ministry had still not made a formal announcement on Dassault's L1 status, and was uncertain about the timeframe for this. "Nothing is official yet," according to a defence ministry source.

Assuming the formal granting of L1 status for Rafale, final negotiations between Dassault and the Indian government's Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) could take between six months and one year. According to defence ministry tender guidelines, a CNC should comprise individuals representing the stakeholders involved in an acquisition. In the case of MMRCA, an industry source believes the air force, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and other key parties will be represented.

The CNC will conduct a two-stage negotiation. The first will deal with details such as contract language and deliverables, the second with pricing. On clearing the CNC, the contract will need the approval of the Defence Acquisition Council and India's finance ministry. Finally, the package will go before India's Cabinet Committee on Security, which will give the final sign-off.

"The L1 price is not necessarily the price you will win with," says the source. "There will be multiple stakeholders involved in the decision and negotiations."

Aboulafia also questions the true cost of the MMRCA deal, as the winner is required to plough 50% of the contract value into offsets.

"India needs to understand the cost of offsets," he says. "While technology transfer and local manufacturing sound good, they are an extremely expensive mark-up to an already pricey aircraft deal. The selection of the 'lowest cost' aircraft is somewhat surreal. Nothing about this project is low cost at all, so it's like choosing between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini on the basis of the sticker price."

Under the terms of the award, 18 aircraft will be delivered in a flyaway condition, with 108 to be built under licence by HAL. Although the Rafale has struggled in late-stage negotiations in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates, recent French wins on the subcontinent bode well for the successful conclusion of Dassault's MMRCA campaign.

In July 2011, the company won a long-awaited $2.2 billion deal to upgrade the Indian air force's Mirage 2000H fighters to its Mirage 2000-9 standard. In early January, missile-maker MBDA confirmed a deal to equip the modified aircraft with Mica air-to-air missiles, although an official contract has yet to be signed.

One of India's major goals in the MMRCA competition is to boost its indigenous aerospace sector, but media reports from the subcontinent frequently suggest the country continues to struggle with high-profile programmes such as the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) Tejas light combat aircraft and the Dhruv advanced light helicopter.

Despite conveniently achieving initial operational capability only weeks before last year's Aero India show in Bengaluru, the Tejas is reportedly nowhere near achieving final operational capability, although it conducted about 240 test flights in 2011.

A naval variant of the Tejas, unveiled in 2010, has yet to conduct its first flight, despite a programme official's confidence last year that the aircraft would fly in October or November 2011. Indeed, The Hindu newspaper recently quoted Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma as saying the ADA had "let the service down" with the naval version of the Tejas. After completing initial test flights, the aircraft will still need to prove itself capable of ramp-assisted take-offs and arrested landings for carrier-based operations.

The Indian air force has received all six Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules ordered in 2008, and is in talks to obtain six more

Meanwhile, New Delhi is co-operating with Sukhoi to develop the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, a variant of the company's PAK-FA/T-50 design. It has also conducted a study into the indigenous fighter known as the medium combat aircraft (MCA), which would be a stealth type similar to the F-35.

Both plans are highly ambitious and could yield fruit, but the record of HAL and the ADA with the relatively basic Tejas suggests an extremely challenging development period for both fighters, especially the MCA.

Aside from a cloudy outlook on the fighter front, India's acquisition of a new basic trainer has also been delayed. India's Cabinet Committee on Security was due to approve a deal to buy 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk IIs as flyaways, with another 106 produced under licence by HAL. A protest by the South Korean government has apparently delayed this deal, with the Korea Aerospace Industries KT-1 having also been involved in the competition. However, an industry source says questions from the Ministry of Finance about the tender are behind the delay.

Any hold-up in the procurement is troublesome for the air force, which suffers a profound capability gap in basic training and arguably needs a new capability more urgently than any other type. The service's HAL HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers were grounded in July 2009 following a series of crashes.

However, India appears to be making progress with its renewed competition for additional tankers, with Airbus Military confirming in January that the nation had completed trials of the A330 MRTT and rival Ilyushin IL-78MK. The air force plans to acquire six tankers initially, followed by more to augment its existing active inventory of seven Il-78s.

An off-the-shelf purchase of attack helicopters is also progressing, with Boeing confirming at the Singapore Airshow in February that its AH-64D Apache Longbow is poised to win a 22-aircraft contract after seeing off Russia's Mil Mi-28. India's air force also plans to obtain 65 HAL light combat helicopters with deliveries to start in 2013-2014.

Transport is proving to be a bright spot for the Indian air force. It has received all six Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules ordered in 2008, and is in talks to obtain six more. India will also begin receiving 10 Boeing C-17s in 2013-2014, and 105 Antonov An-32s are being steadily upgraded with significantly improved avionics.

Work is also well under way on India's Boeing 737-based P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. In February, Raytheon announced it has delivered the first APY-10 surveillance radar for the aircraft, eight of which will enter navy service. The radar is specifically customised for India, with its surface search capability built on with air-to-air and weather modes. India is obtaining eight P-8Is.

While India appears to be doing well with the acquisition of key support aircraft, its main challenge remains to fill out its fighter squadrons and obtain a modern basic trainer. The situation will only grow more challenging as Pakistan increases its force of Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 Thunders, and China develops its high-altitude airfields in the Himalayas. The Indian air force's future MMRCA fleet is essential to counter these threats.

Four-hour Bollywood movies are great fun while they last, but all the singing and dancing account for nothing without a decisive finale.

Sukhoi gets special shelters at Lohegaon

‘All-weather maintenance structures will provide protection to the aircraft’

The coming summer might be relatively cooler for Sukhoi aircraft fleet at city's Indian Air Force (IAF) station in Lohegaon. The station, a home to two squadrons of the country's frontline fighter, has installed All-Weather Maintenance Shelters for the aircraft parked at the station which will protect them from harmful ultraviolet rays of direct sun. So far, the aircraft would be covered by canvas while parked on the tarmac.

Speaking to The Indian Express, an IAF officer said, "Maintenance shelters have been installed at IAF Lohegaon station and have been in place now for about a month or so. The metal-fibre structures are capable of accommodating one aircraft each." Two squadrons of Sukhoi-30 MKI, fighter No. 30 squadron - Rhinos and No. 20 squadron - Lightenings, are stationed at the IAF Lohegaon Station. Third squadron, No. 31 squadron - Lions, was relocated to Jodhpur in September. Maintenance shelters have also been erected at other IAF bases where Sukhois are stationed. The light weight structures are such that even if they fall, the aircraft systems are not damaged.

Sections of the media had reported that the IAF decided to put the maintenance shelters in the aftermath of the Sukhoi-30 MKI crash near Pune. Media reports had also suggested that the crash was a result of exposing the air dominance fighter to harmful ultraviolet rays which resulted in damaging the aircraft's critical systems but the officials rubbished the reports saying the process was initiated about a year ago. A quick search revealed that the IAF had started the process for shelters in December 2010, a year prior to the Pune crash.

"One cannot put two plus two in such cases. If UV rays are to be given a thought, then they are more direct when the aircraft is flying at higher attitudes. The plan has been under consideration for quite some time. In fact, we had made such shelters a part of the original project when we were drafting the contract for Hawk aircraft," said an IAF officer.

Commenting on the development, Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale, former vice-chief of air staff said, "Today, technological advancements are such that paints, coatings on the aircraft protect the machine to a great extent as against earlier ones. However, in the longer run, this is certainly a step in the right direction given that the structures provide protection to the aircraft from all types of environment besides human comfort and avoiding direct heating of sensors due to direct sunlight."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti flew the ninth production model of the F-35 Lightning II, F-35A AF-14

Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti flew the ninth production model of the F-35 Lightning II, F-35A AF-14 (Air Force serial number 09-5001), on its inaugural flight on 2 March 2012 from NAS Fort Worth JRB.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Latest Mi-17 V5 choppers formally inducted into IAF

India formally inducted its latest Mi-17 V5 armed helicopters from Russia to enhance its
operational capabilities including carrying troops and cargo to high altitude areas.

Marking the formal commissioning of the choppers in the Indian Air Force (IAF), Defence
Minister A K Antony on Friday symbolically handed over its keys to the Commanding Officer of one of the units operating the machines.

“The new Mi-17 helicopters will help in adding muscle to IAF's capabilities to carry out operations assigned to it,” the Defence Minister said while addressing the gathering of senior IAF officials.

India has placed orders for 80 such choppers from Russia and the first batch was inducted in the last week of September last year.

The first three units of the helicopters will be raised at Bhatinda (Punjab), Srinagar (J-K) and Bagdogra (West Bengal).

Over 20 such flying machines have already arrived and are deployed at various locations in the northern sector, Air Force officials said.

The Mi-17 V5 falls in armed helicopter category, with substantial and effective firepower. It has the latest and more powerful engines that will enhance its payload carrying capability at higher altitudes.

“The Mi-17 V5 is an upgrade of Mi-17 choppers in the medium-lift category and is equipped
with state-of-the-art avionics and on board navigation nystems,” IAF officials said.

On the machine's capabilities, they said, “It has on-board weather radar, state-of-the-art autopilot and is compatible with the latest generation night vision goggles.”

The Mi-17 variants have operated in various types of terrain, including Siachen Glacier, and have also proven their mettle in UN missions.

Friday, February 17, 2012

AAD-05 Interceptor Successfully Tested

DRDO air defence missile AAD-05 has successfully hit ballistic missile and destroys the ballistic missile at a height of 15 kms off the coast of Orissa near the wheelers island. a modified prithvi missile mimicking the ballistic missile was launched at 1010hrs today from ITR Chandipur. radars located at deferent locations have tracked incoming ballistic missile. interceptor missile was completely ready to take off at wheelers island. guidance computers have continuously computed the trajectory of ballistic missile and launched AAD05 interceptor missile at a precisely calculated time. AAD-05 interceptor missile initially guided by the inertial navigation system with the target trajectory continuously updated by the radar, the on board guidance computer guided the aad-05 interceptor missile towards the target missile. the onboard radio frequency seeker identified the target missile and guided the aad-05 interceptor missile close to the target missile and hit the target missile directly and destroyed it. warhead also exploded and destroyed the target missile into pieces.

Radar and eots systems have tracked the missile and also recorded the fragments of target missile falling into the bay of bengal. it is one of the finest missions where the interceptor has hit the incoming ballistic missile directly and destroyed at a 15 kms altitude. india has joined a very few advanced countries, who have these ballistic missile defence capabilities.

India is the fifth nation to have these capabilities in the world. the mission was carried out in the final deliverable user configuration mode.

Scientific Advisor VK Saraswat has reviewed the total configuration and mission and also witnessed the launch. shri avinash chander chief controller r&d (mss) and P Venugopalan director drdl carried out the flight readiness review of both the target missile and interceptor missile. D S Reddy, programme director air defence system alongwith his team have carried out all the preparations for the launch successfully. shri sp dash director itr, dr sk chaudhuri director rci and shri satish kumar director spic and other top drdo scientists were present during the mission. the mission was also witnessed by the senior officials of tri-services.

A K Antony has congratulated all the scientists for the successful demonstration of ballistic missile defence.

The Mission Control Centre for the AAD interceptor trial held on 10th February 2012 was deployed in Master-Slave configuration at DRDO Hyderabad and Wheeler Island, Orissa to ensure high availability with built in fault tolerance at each location.

The Mission Control Centre of the Indian BMD programme is one of the most advanced, automated net-centric Command and Control systems in the world.

The Master MCC located more than a thousand kilometer away at Hyderabad from the Missile test range, received the target data in real time from multiple weapon system radars. The complete Air Situation Picture during the BMD trial was provided to the MCC commander using advanced data fusion and target classification techniques.

After the classification of the target as an enemy Ballistic missile, Mission Control Centre issued engagement orders to the AAD Launch Centre located at Wheeler island in Dhamra.

The complete engagement sequence from target detection to destruction was controlled by Mission Control Centre in net-centric mode of operation. The interceptor missile lifted off from Wheeler island destroying the target at an altitude of 15 km.

The AAD Trial has successfully demonstrated complete functionality in deployment configuration of Mission Control Centre for the Ballistic Missile Defence Programme.

F-35B Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft BF-3 with a 1,000-lb inert test GBU-32 in an open internal weapons bay for loads testing.

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Marine Corps Maj. C. R. “Jimi” Clift flies F-35B Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft BF-3 Dec. 19, 2011 with a 1,000-lb inert test GBU-32 in an open internal weapons bay for loads testing. Significant weapons testing for the F-35B and F-35C variants is scheduled for 2012, including fit checks, captive carriage, pit drop and aerial drop tests.

What is French fighter Rafale?

The Dassault Rafale is a French twin-engine delta-wing multi-role jet fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. It is called an "omnirole" fighter by its manufacturer.

Development of the Rafale began in the late 1970s when the French Air Force and Navy were seeking replacements for its aircraft. France tied up with four other countries to produce an air dominance fighter. However, due to disagreements, the venture failed.

To satisfy the Ministry of Defense's stringent criteria, Dassault built a technology demonstrator to prove the viability of its new product. Once approved, further developments led to the current Rafale variants.

Introduced in 2000, the Rafale is being produced both for land-based use with the French Air Force and for carrier-based operations with the French Navy.

Once the price negotiations with Dassault Aviation are finalised, the Rafale will fulfil the Indian Air Force's requirement for a Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

Dassault Rafale deal: New fighter is good but price is worrying

At one level, there is nothing surprising about the decision of the government to begin price negotiations with the Dassault company to purchase their Rafale to fulfill the Indian Air Force's requirement a Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

Once the IAF decided that it wanted the best fighter, not necessarily the most economical, it was clear that choice would be between Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale.

According to analysts, it is the better multi-role fighter than its nearest competitor, the Eurofighter, and slightly cheaper. So following the "L1" criterion that the government usually follows, of accepting the lowest bid, the Rafale has been chosen.

Given the stringent technical criteria that the IAF insisted on, there should be no doubt that the Rafale will be a first-class fighter and that it is as good as the Eurofighter in the air-to-air role, and somewhat superior to it in the air-to-ground role. The issue, rather, will relate to costs.

Already the original MMRCA deal, which was supposed to be for $ 10.4 billion, has ballooned to $ 20 billion- plus for 126 aircrafts. The final bill will only be known after the price negotiation process is done.

The MMRCA competition was a somewhat peculiar one. How do you reconcile putting aircraft like the small single engined Jas 39 Gripen and the F-16 against the heavy twin engined Eurofighter and Rafale? Initially, the requirement seemed to be to meet the needs of the Light Combat Aircraft, which had been delayed.

But clearly, including the heavy multi-role fighters changed that mission. From the outset, the air force had been talking about the need to worry about 'life cycle costs' (LCC) of the fighter they were going to buy.

But how could they compare the LCC of the light fighters with that of the heavy ones? Only in the end did the IAF decide that they wanted a heavy, twin-engined fighter and they shortlisted the latter two aircraft last year. And now they have decided in favour of the Rafale.

The issue of life cycle costs will not go away even now. When the Rafale comes in, it will be in addition to an existing fleet of Su-30MKIs, MiG-29s, Mirage 2000s, Jaguars and other aircraft. Over the years, the IAF has realised the high price they have had to pay for this multiplicity of types.

This is an era when air forces have been sharply reducing their aircraft types to keep costs down.

It is no secret that India will be the first country, after France, to have decided to operate this fighter. This means that a substantial part of the development costs of the aircraft will be borne by us. The Rafale is still in the beginning stage of its development cycle.

Three countries have considered acquiring the Rafale, come close to it, and then backed out - Brazil, UAE and Switzerland. The parsimonious Swiss decided that the Rafale was too expensive and are looking for a cheaper alternative.

As for the UAE, last November, Sheikh Mohammed, deputy of the UAE's armed forces, said that the Dassault offer was "uncompetitive and unworkable [in] commercial terms". The UAE was angered by the French demands of Euro 2 billion to develop the fighter.

Now, the French have the rich Indians to do what the poor Arabs and the Swiss could not afford.

What India needs to worry about is the cost of running its air force. It already has a large number of twin engine fighters and will get more in the form of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) from Russia.

Indeed, with the Rafale joining squadron service, the air force will be top- heavy because there will not be enough light fighters which can carry out combat air patrols on the cheap.

The air force is making its bed, but it is the taxpayer of the country that has to sleep on it.