Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stop chasing France’s Rafale: India’s air warriors can’t fly on foreign wings forever

The Indian Air Force’s requirement for a medium multi-role combat aircraft continues to remain unfulfilled.
In the early 2000s, the IAF decided that the logical answer to its problems of obsolescence, attrition, and declining fleet strength was to induct additional numbers of the single-engined Mirage 2000. This aircraft had an excellent safety and serviceability record, and played a decisive role in the Kargil conflict. With a few changes and upgrades, Vayu Bhavan felt that it could become the future multi-role aircraft—not only bridging the gap between the heavyweight Sukhoi Su-30 and the light-weight Tejas, but also compensating for the eventual de-induction of MiG-21s.
However, there was a fly in the ointment. Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer, was now producing a more advanced variant—the Mirage 2000-5. Dassault was also on the verge of closing down the entire Mirage 2000 production line unless it had some orders.

The joint secretaries in the defence ministry refused to treat the IAF proposal as merely a “repeat order on a past supplier” as envisaged in the “fast track procedure” of Defence Procurement Procedure 2006. They insisted that as the Mirage 2000-5 was an entirely “new” aircraft, the IAF should follow the standard process of drawing up an air staff requirement, and then floating a request for proposal.
The irony is that if the IAF was willing to settle for the older Mirage 2000 instead of the Mirage 2000-5, it could have got the fighters under existing rules. But that is like wanting to buy a discontinued motorcar model when the latest was already in the market.
The Mirage 2000 acquisition, too, has a bit of a history. When the original deal was signed, the “intention to proceed” contract was for an initial order of 40 aircraft for outright purchase in fly-away condition and an option to produce another 110 aircraft in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bengaluru with total technology transfer. If this plan were carried forward, the IAF would not have needed the MiG-29. But, in 1984, the then defence minister R Venkatraman visited Moscow and, shortly after his return, stated in Parliament that India was going to select a “futuristic aircraft to meet the challenge posed by the presence of the F-16 in a neighbouring country.” The inference was clearly with regard to the MiG-29.
27/01/16 Mohan Guruswamy/ India

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