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MMRCA trial report awaits nod, decision may be political

NEW DELHI (PTI): India is now closer to finalising a USD 10 billion contract for 126 fighter aircraft with IAF submitting a report on the flight evaluation of six contenders for the 'mother of all deals', though top sources Thursday said the decision could be "political".

"We have submitted a voluminous report on the performance of the six bidding aircraft for the medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract. The report is yet to be approved by the Defence Ministry. The performance, cost and political considerations will all be factors in deciding the winning bid," IAF sources said here.

Mission objectives for the aircraft, national security considerations and international relations were cited by the sources as the "political factors" that could determine which way the contract would go.

With the Flight Evaluation Trial (FET) report of the six aircraft in the fray finalised, the Defence Ministry will soon open the commercial bids of the six global fighter jet manufacturers to identify the lowest bid.

American Lockheed Martin F-16IN and Boeing F/A-18, French D'Assault Rafale, European consortium EADS' Eurofighter Typhoons, Swedish SAAB Gripen and Russian MiG-35 are in the fray for the contract for which a tender was floated in August 2007.

"We have gone exactly according to the Request for Proposals (RFP) and have set 643 parameters or Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQRs) which the aircraft were evaluated against for compliance. We have submitted an objective report on the compliance and non-compliance of the six aircraft," the sources said.

The sources made it clear that the IAF had not created a "merit list" and had only given its reports evaluating each of the aircraft against the ASQRs.

"The process of FET has been so rigorous and meticulous that the trial methodology and report is probably the best in the world and could be a model for other air forces for conducting their FETs for their contracts," the sources said.

Noting that none of the aircraft had complied fully with all the parameters set by the IAF, they said there were "varying degrees of compliance and non-compliance" by each of the contenders for the mega deal, estimated to be worth Rs 47000 crore in Indian currency.

They also refused to comment on the aircraft's suitability for the IAF, but said, "All platforms are top of the line aircraft."

To a query if more number of MMRCA, over and above the 126 stated in the current bids, could be ordered, the sources said the option of going in for an additional number was part of the tender documents, though a decision would be taken on it only after the current deal was through.

While F-16IN and Gripen are single engine platforms, the rest of the six contenders are twin-engine jets planes.

The sources pointed out that while single-engine aircraft was suitable for certain manoeuvres, the twin-engine jets had high survivability.

"However, there will be no preference expressed by the IAF on the basis of the number of engines in each of the platform, though low life cycle cost would be a factor," they said.

After the FETs of each aircraft, the respective original equipment manufacturers were clearly briefed on the results, as also holding 14 meetings with them on the life cycle costs of the aircraft, the sources said.

On the hi-tech Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars that the six bidders were offering and the technology transfer conditions, the sources said all the six bidders had, in their tender documents, assured compliance with the IAF's requirements for the MMRCA.

Asked about the commercial bids of the six firms that had expired in April this year, the sources said the companies had either submitted fresh documents or had validated their existing documents in July this year and these bids would be valid for upto two years.

The FETs were held in two parts between 2008 and 2009 -- while the flight trials were held in India in different climatic conditions, terrain and altitudes, the weapons trials were held in the country of the competing firms' choice.

While the contract itself is likely to be wrapped up sometime next year, the MMRCA is expected to join the IAF fleet sometime beginning 2017.

With obsolescence of its fleet at 45 per cent at present, the current IAF strength stood at 34 squadrons (over 640 aircraft). It will go down till about 2017 and would then rise up to reach 42 squadrons by 2022 when the obsolescence would be reduced to 25 per cent, the sources said.

By 2022, the IAF's major inventory of Russian origin MiG fleet would have been phased out and the then fleet would comprise of Sukhois, indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas', MMRCA, indigenous Medium Combat Aircraft (modelled on LCA) and fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) that India is developing jointly with the Russians.


Air Force  MMRCA  

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