Axalp target practice, Switzerland

Gripen & F-16 compete in MMRCA re-run

The Gripen NG and the F-16 Block 70 are front runners in a truncated replay of the medium multi-role combat aircraft contest

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi August 16, 2016 Last Updated at 00:20 IST

Since April 2011, when the (IAF) shortlisted the and for purchase, Swedish company has believed its was unfairly eliminated from that globally watched tender for 126 medium (MMRCA). Similarly, US aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, which had offered an F-16 Block 50/52 variant called the Super Viper, feels hard done by. Yet, one of these companies might still have the last laugh after the eventual winner, Dassault of France, failed to conclude a contract for the Rafale.

The and the – improved variants of the fighters Saab and Lockheed Martin had earlier offered – are front runners in a truncated replay of the MMRCA contest. Boeing, meanwhile, has repeated its offer of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. All three offers are couched in the rubric of “Make in India”.

Of the original six vendors in the MMRCA race, only Russia’s RAC MiG has faded away. Dassault continues negotiating with New Delhi, albeit only for 36 Rafales under a government-to-government sale. Eurofighter remains poised on the sidelines; offering to step in should negotiations with Dassault collapse. (F-16 VS GRIPENN: THE FLYING MACHINES)

A call to battle
In April 2015, when Prime Minister ended three years of tortuous negotiations with Dassault, compensating the French vendor with an order for 36 fighters, Defence Minister realised a light fighter would still be needed to replace the IAF’s retiring MiGs and bolster plummeting fighter numbers.

On April 13, 2015, Parrikar stated on Doordarshan TV: “Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. LCA [Light Combat Aircraft] Tejas is a replacement for MiG-21. Or, if we build some other fighter under ‘Make in India’… another single engine (fighter) in India, which is possible, that could be a replacement for the MiG-21.”

For Saab and Lockheed Martin, which both had single-engine, light fighters to offer, this was a call to battle. And the (ADA), which runs the LCA programme, realised the Tejas had to come good quickly.

The IAF and wasted no time in accelerating Tejas’ induction. Since the Tejas Mark II requires the time-consuming integration of a new engine, it was agreed to induct a stopgap Tejas Mark IA. This would have four improvements over the Mark I: active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to boost air combat capability; an externally-carried self-protection jammer (SPJ) to blind enemy radar; mid-air refuelling to extend its range, and tidied-up internals for easier maintenance. The IAF undertook to order at least 80 Tejas Mark IA fighters.

Saab makes its play
Meanwhile, Saab prepared a three-point plan that piggybacks on the Tejas. This has not been formally proposed, but its strategy is evident from the informal offers made.

First, Saab has offered to manufacture and assemble the Gripen NG in India, partnering an Indian firm. Ministry insiders say Saab hopes to roll out the first fighter in 36 months; ramping up quickly to 18 fighters per year. The Gripen NG’s cost will depend upon how much indigenisation India demands. Building more components and sub-systems indigenously would naturally raise the cost.

Second, Saab has offered to partner ADA in developing the Tejas Mark IA, focusing on the four improvements needed. The Gripen NG’s vaunted Selex Galileo Raven ES-05 AESA radar would be manufactured in India for the Tejas Mark IA and the Gripen NG. With a 100-degree sweep, this scans a wider cone than any other current radar.

Third, Saab would help ADA develop its planned fifth-generation (Gen-5) fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). In this, Saab’s capability is untested, since Europe has no Gen-5 fighter programme. Instead, Saab is part of a European consortium working on an unmanned stealth aircraft, called the nEUROn.

Significantly, Saab is silent on the Tejas Mark II – which would directly compete with the Gripen NG. Saab’s vision clearly involves bypassing the Tejas Mark II – and moving from the Mark IA, to the Gripen NG, to the AMCA.

Jan Widerstrom, Saab India chief, says on the Saab website: “The offer includes setting up of a full manufacturing facility; transfer of state-of-the-art technology; setting up of an aerospace eco-system in India; creation of a local supplier base of ancillary systems; employment of a well-trained Indian workforce. We would train engineers in Sweden, as we’re doing with Brazilian engineers right now for the Brazilian Gripen program. We see ourselves as a catalyst. We will provide India with cutting-edge technology which will energise India’s aerospace ecosystem.”

A usually reticent Stockholm has thrown its weight behind Saab. Sweden-India discussions centre on a joint working group (JWG) that meets annually, in accordance with a 2009 Indo-Swedish defence cooperation agreement. After the last JWG meeting in Delhi on September 29-30, the two national security advisors met in October in the first Indo-Swedish “strategic dialogue”. Ramming home the message, Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, travelled to India in February for the “Make in India” exhibition in Mumbai.

According to a joint release after his meeting with Modi: “The two prime ministers… agreed that under the rubric of Make in India, cooperation possibilities between their respective defence industries could be identified and taken forward appropriately, including in the field of aviation.”

On June 10, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, travelled to Saab’s production facility in Linkoping, Sweden, and test flew the Gripen NG at a Swedish airbase. There is talk of IAF test pilots travelling to Sweden to check out the fighter.

While the IAF apparently likes the Gripen NG, it does not want to disturb the Rafale negotiations, which it considers top priority. While not a Gen-5 fighter, the Gripen NG’s data link – a key element in modern air combat – is reputedly the world’s most advanced. Its avionics are built of Gallium Nitride, which delivers superior performance over conventional Gallium Arsenide avionics. The Gripen NG carries diverse weaponry from various countries, including the French Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), reputedly the world’s most advanced, with an estimated range of about 150 kilometres. Independent researcher IHS Jane’s, finds the Gripen the cheapest contemporary fighter to operate.

F-16 Block 70 offer
Going toe-to-toe with Saab, a characteristically aggressive Lockheed Martin is pushing hard on its offer, made through the Indo-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), to shift its F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas to India.

Over the preceding four decades, 4,588 F-16s have been built, in 138 versions, for 27 user countries, the sheer size of that production run making it a cheap and affordable fighter. But now F-16 orders have dried up, and Lockheed Martin wants Forth Worth fully turned over to building the thousands of F-35 Lightening II joint strike fighters (JSFs) on order.

“An Indian F-16 order clearly serves multiple US interests. It would revitalise the F-16 production chain, which is about to shut down; sell India the 1970s production line instead of just junking it; allow Fort Worth to focus on building F-35s; and strengthen defence ties with New Delhi,” notes a senior IAF officer.

At a media briefing in New Delhi last Friday, Lockheed Martin’s Randy Howard made it clear that production would be shifted to India only if the IAF buys the F-16.

Howard talked up the “next generation avionics” of the Block 70 version of the F-16, but IAF officials are sceptical. Its APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), while a reputed AESA radar, has been built by Northrop Grumman since 2014 for the US and Taiwanese air forces. Nor is the “high speed data network” and the “upgraded core computer” that Howard advertised noticeably superior to what is on the older Block 50/52. Analysts wonder what changes justify a new block number.

Within the IAF, which has for the last four decades, focused its training and tactics on fighting Pakistan F-16s, there is entrenched resistance to buying that fighter. Further, the air marshals are certain Washington would never allow Lockheed Martin to offer the kind of holistic proposal and technology transfer that Saab has offered.

Assuaging these concerns, Ben Schwartz, who heads aerospace and defence for the US-India Business Council, says: “The F-16 offers would come in as FMS deals with unprecedented technology transfer and Make-in-India characteristics. A lot of work has gone into evaluating the level of indigenisation – more so than in any other case that people can recall.” Backing him up, a senior Pentagon official says: “In US-India negotiations today, you have to throw away all the assumptions of the past about what Washington will allow and what it will deny. Don’t assume anything is off the table.”

Boeing officials, who have separately offered to build the heavy, twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in India, say their “Make in India” beats Lockheed Martin’s. “If India wants an indigenous aerospace eco-system, it makes no sense to buy an old production line, with all its inefficiencies. Boeing is offering a fighter that will remain in service through the 2040s, and possibly the 2050s, far longer than the F-16, and offering to build it on a brand new Indian production line”, says one official.

Boeing’s most powerful argument for the Super Hornet is perhaps its utility for the Indian Navy. After worrying questions from the Comptroller and Auditor General over the Russian MiG-29K’s ability to operate off a carrier, there is talk of the need to hedge India’s bets for the second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal.

With three offers in hand, the defence ministry has not yet taken the initiative, nor issued a single “request for information” (RFI) or “request for proposals” (RFP). New Delhi has not divulged whether it wants competitive tendering, or a government-to-government strategic acquisition. The long-promised policy for nominating Indian “strategic partners (SP) remains in limbo, leaving foreign vendors with little idea about who could be their Indian partner.

Says a senior executive from one of the vendor companies: “It may well emerge that New Delhi is using discussions with Saab, Lockheed and Boeing as a stalking horse for the Rafale negotiation, putting pressure on Dassault with the range of options that India has. Until there is clarity, we can only continue groping in the dark.”

Original post @business-standard.com

****-END-****

“On April 13, 2015, Parrikar stated on Doordarshan TV: “Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. LCA [Light Combat Aircraft] Tejas is a replacement for MiG-21. Or, if we build some other fighter under ‘Make in India’… another single engine (fighter) in India, which is possible, that could be a replacement for the MiG-21.””

“While the IAF apparently likes the Gripen NG, it does not want to disturb the Rafale negotiations, which it considers top priority. While not a Gen-5 fighter, the Gripen NG’s data link – a key element in modern air combat – is reputedly the world’s most advanced. Its avionics are built of Gallium Nitride, which delivers superior performance over conventional Gallium Arsenide avionics. The Gripen NG carries diverse weaponry from various countries, including the French Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), reputedly the world’s most advanced, with an estimated range of about 150 kilometres. Independent researcher IHS Jane’s, finds the Gripen the cheapest contemporary fighter to operate.”

 

“Over the preceding four decades, 4,588 F-16s have been built, in 138 versions, for 27 user countries, the sheer size of that production run making it a cheap and affordable fighter. But now F-16 orders have dried up, and Lockheed Martin wants Forth Worth fully turned over to building the thousands of F-35 Lightening II joint strike fighters (JSFs) on order.

“An Indian F-16 order clearly serves multiple US interests. It would revitalise the F-16 production chain, which is about to shut down; sell India the 1970s production line instead of just junking it; allow Fort Worth to focus on building F-35s; and strengthen defence ties with New Delhi,” notes a senior IAF officer.”

“Howard talked up the “next generation avionics” of the Block 70 version of the F-16, but IAF officials are sceptical. Its APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), while a reputed AESA radar, has been built by Northrop Grumman since 2014 for the US and Taiwanese air forces. Nor is the “high speed data network” and the “upgraded core computer” that Howard advertised noticeably superior to what is on the older Block 50/52. Analysts wonder what changes justify a new block number.”

At least the Indians are not stupid the US maybe offering the most advance F-16 version but in future they may block any upgrade due to US interference policies!

Related post:

Defence Ministry to take a call on the purchase of Rafale fighter jets

Lockheed Martin sees $15-billion export potential for ‘Made in India’ F16 jets

Arms dealer connection holds up the Rafale deal

Saab in hunt for India partner to help Modi overhaul forces

Saab Gripen E: Details

F-16V Fighter – Upgrade: Detailsnellis-afb-red-flag-15-1-28

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