Friday, December 21, 2007

Indian Air Power

The Indian Air Force fighter squadron level is now nearly bottoming out at 29, though, officially there are 32 squadrons. There are about 18 fighter aircraft in each squadron but the figure may vary with the composition and the task assigned to each of the units.

Jas 39C Gripen
See the full image of the Gripen here

The six aircraft in the competition broadly fall into two categories: single-engined and twin-engined. The F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 60 (from Lockheed Martin) and the JAS 39C Gripen (from Saab) are single-engined. The IAF decided not to categorise the aircraft on the number of engines they carry but on their capabilities.

By Anirudh Prakash

The US secretary of defence Robert Gates is expected to visit India in the second week of January 2008. He will be accompanied by a high power delegation comprising representatives from manufacturers of fighter aircraft, and some officials of the Pentagon. Some Pentagon officials are already in New Delhi to lobby for the Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) in spite of opposition from the Left. Through LSA US will be able to utilize Indian ports and air bases for its naval fleets and fighters.

Mr. Gates will also lobby for purchase of fighter aircraft by India for which proposals have been invited by the ministry of defence. It would be for the first time that the US will be bidding to supply fighter aircraft to India.
F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 60
Full image of the F-16

The Americans are among the six suppliers who have been requested to submit proposals to sell 126 multi-role combat aircraft. The total size of the order is likely to top Rs.42,000 crore ($10.2 billion).

In the latest tender, the bidders have time till March 3, 2008, to send their responses. That will be followed by a technical evaluation of the bids, operational trials, opening of the bids, short-listing and price negotiations and finally the contract. Air headquarters sources estimate that it would take at least five years for the first aircraft to be inducted.

The value of the aircraft will be reached through a "verifiable cost model", which will take into account factors such as transfer of technology spares, warranty expenditure on training and operation and licence royalty.

The Government decided on such a model because the Indian armed forces, with a bulk of their hardware of Soviet/Russian origin, have found their older equipment expensive in the long run, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The figure of 126 was arrived at after the IAF projected that it would need at least seven squadrons of the multi-role combat aircraft as it phases out its obsolete fighters.

The tender says that 18 aircraft would be bought in "flyaway" (off-the-shelf) condition. The other 108 would be co-produced or licence-produced in India after transfer of technology.

The sticky issue of offsets - the share of the total project cost that would be ploughed back into India for re-investment - remains. The request for proposals says the offsets value would be 50 per cent.

Before price negotiations, the aircraft would be evaluated on parameters like air defence, high manoeuvrability with tight radii of turn; rate of climb and descent, offensive capability, precision navigation systems, ground-attack power: ability to seek, attack and destroy bunkers, bridges and terror camps, reconnaissance and surveillance, maritime strike role.

The clearance for floating of RFP is coming after the government recently put 13 private sector undertakings in the Raksha Udyog Ratnas category, which would enable them to bid for offsets in such defence sales and technology transfers.

In combat aircraft capability the USA is a leader, followed by Russia, the European consortium of the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain, France, Sweden and the Asian giant China. Although nations like Argentina, India, Japan, and South Korea too have entered the field of fighter production, their capability emanates more from joint ventures and less out of indigenous tradition.

In fact, gone are the golden days of the Cold War era when a plethora of fighters were available - the USSR produced MiGs, Sukhois and Yakovlevs, the American fighters of California and Texas factories of Northrop, Grumman, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics producing the variety of Fs, that is, 5, 14, 15, 16, 18. Also gone are the combat teeth of the Israel Aircraft Industries product Kfir and Lavi; the French too no longer experiment with a new variety of Mirage 4000. Instead, Paris has stabilised itself with only Mirage 2000 or Rafale fighters.
Full image of the French Rafale

For India, the choice has widened further with the twin engine Euro fighter Typhoonalso on voluntary "offer list". An arch rival of the French Rafale, Typhoon's economics too appears "not too bright" owing to reduction of its "manufacturer consumer" demand from 765 to 620 aircraft.
Eurofighter Typhoon
Full image of the Eurofighter Typhoon

The latest to joint the "Love India Club" is the USA which has offered both F-16 and the Super Hornet F-18 multirole Fighter, a total of 170 of which had been built by the end of 2003. Pentagon had originally identified requirement for over 1,000 aircraft till 2015, but the Quadrennial defence Review reduced the number to a minimum of 548 and a maximum of 785 units and subsequently advocated further reduction to 460 in 2002.
Fa-18 Super Hornet
Full image of the Super Hornet

Thus, the sale of fighters, notwithstanding the "hot and happening hype," is "blood, sweat, tears and toils" for the salesmen faced with reduced customers and the corruption corridor of the consumer's cash box.

However, as the market today has transformed from a seller's to buyer's market, little wonder that India is being wooed by six sellers, thereby making it a transcontinental "clash" of combat aircraft manufacturers in the backyard of the Indian Air Force bases.

All the sellers are trying to woo India by offering incentives, and other allurements. Political and diplomatic pressure is being exerted at the highest levels, and middlemen are actively canvassing support in different forms, including bribe and trying to gain media support for their hardware. The US President, George Bush, is personally interacting with the government of India, and he had spoken to the PM about his preferences.

Russia's RAC-MiG is offering the MiG-35 in its bid for the contract. The Indian dilemma is quite understandable, but a choice has to be made for selection of a hi-tech multirole fighter with technology transfer. The other condition is supply of 80 fighters by 2010, out of which Russia will have a share of 40 Sukhoi-30 MKI. Since Russians are demanding escalation in cost the issue figured in the CCS meeting. However, Defence Minister, A. K. Antony, has been authorised to take up the matter with his Russian counterpart on a priority basis.
Full image of the MiG-35