Challenger Rafale – IAF ‘Top Officials’ shortlist only aircraft capable of outflanking Dassault jets to win India’s MRFA deal
OPED By Girish Linganna
The Indian Air Force plans to acquire 114 fighter jets in a big push for the Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Governing India) program run by the Indian government. Of these 114, India would import 18 jets while developing 96 aircraft domestically.
These fighter jets will be acquired under the “Buy Global And Make In India” program, under which Indian companies will partner with a foreign supplier.
The initial 18 aircraft would be imported, the next 36 jets would be manufactured domestically, and payments would be made partly in foreign currency and Indian currency.
The remaining 60 aircraft would be the primary responsibility of the Indian partner and the government would only make payments in Indian currency, according to government sources.
Tough competition ahead
Aircraft manufacturers, including Saab, Irkut Corporation, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, MiG and Dassault Aviation, can participate in the tender.
By 2035, the Indian Air Force aims to reach a strength of 42 squadrons and deploy nearly 450 aircraft each along the borders of China and Pakistan.
As part of the planned purchase of 114 fighter jets, Su-35, F-15 EX, Rafale, F-21, Saab Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon are expected to compete.
Additionally, India could acquire a large number of Swarm Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (ALFA-S), Stealth Autonomous UCAVS (DRDO AURA) and Unmanned Aircraft to transform into a fully advanced network-centric force capable of sustaining multi-role operations across the spectrum.
Best option for India
Beyond the technical specifications, the answer to these questions must derive from the political situation of a particular country and its military doctrine.
India is a big country, and its independent policy is not bound by binding Allied treaties, relying only on itself during the war and its will to have modern warplanes manufactured locally, so that these principles must be reflected precisely in its military doctrine.
These are very different conditions from countries bound by binding military treaties.
For example, if a NATO country purchases fighter aircraft, the choice should be based on the compatibility of the selected aircraft with NATO air doctrine, detection systems, the strategy of use aviation, combat aircraft from other member countries, basic tactics, airport and technical infrastructure, identification and control of combat aviation.
India wants to become a producer and exporter of fighter jets with LCA Tejas in mind. Its multirole combat aircraft program to acquire 114 fighters will be implemented under New Delhi’s recently adopted procurement procedures.
A foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is considered a strategic partner. Therefore, India will select a local manufacturing company which will jointly build an assembly plant for the required aircraft in the country and to whom it will transfer the required technology.
A question arises as to what type of fighter aircraft the Indian Air Force needs, whether it is a multi-role fighter-bomber or an air superiority fighter.
The answer to this question is that India wants to acquire 114 medium multi-role fighters under MMRCA 2.0, which usually eliminates F-15EX and Su-35 fighter jets, both of which are air superiority fighters .
Now four fighters remain in the running, the Rafale, the Gripen, the F-21 and the Eurofighter.
Air Vice Marshal Suryakant Chafekar (Retired) opined that the best choice for India is the Rafale, as the country has undergone a thorough selection process and already has 36 Rafale aircraft. Keeping the same type of jets in stock is better for maintenance and spare parts.
This generally excludes Eurofighter Typhoons.
In my previous analysis, we excluded Saab Gripens. Although these are fantastic jets, there is no place for them in the Indian Air Force as the country acquires native LCA Tejas which are similar (even better in many ways) to the Gripens.
The Indian Air Force has been offered a new fighter jet, the F21, by Lockheed Martin. The development location for the F21 comes in the form of a new Indian factory built by local company Tata Advanced Systems in conjunction with Lockheed Martin.
These are the contenders for the deal led by Dassault Rafale, but things could change very quickly if India was offered by the United States to participate in the F-35 program.
However, the United States never offered an F-35 to India.
A former fighter pilot, who wished to remain anonymous, told the EurAsian Times that India should not choose the former if it had a choice between the F-21 and the F-35.
“The F-21 and the F-35 are two different and incomparable generations. The F-21 is an upgrade of the F-16. India should not opt for an F-16 glorified by any other name. We shot one down from a MiG 21,” he noted.
Lt Colonet JS Sodhi (Retired) told the EurAsian Times that the United States has not offered its F-35 fighter jets to India. He added, “However, given the aggressive stance taken by China to expand its footprints in the Indo-Pacific region lately and the applause India received at the recently concluded Quad Summit in Tokyo on May 24, the United States, you never know, could change its decision.
Anil Khosla, former vice-chief of the IAF, told the EurAsian Times – Why would a country break away (after being asked about the F-35) with their latest technology and if they do, there must be a hidden agenda – maybe join the western side.
Based on history and track records, would it be safe to rely on just one side? India could go for it if it was offered at an affordable price, without strings attached and with considerable technology transfer, Khosla said.
Despite the criticism, the final battle could be between the F-21 and the Rafale given that the United States is unlikely to share its F-35 technology with India. Dassault should be the big winner unless the United States manages to pull another trick out of its bag, as it did in the case of Australia with the AUKUS deal.
- Girish Linganna is an Aerospace and Defense Analyst and Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd. The opinions expressed are personal.
- Email the author at: [email protected]