`IAF jet selection to be political decision`

IAF may have its parameters but the eventual decision on buying fighter jets may be political.

Updated: Aug 12, 2010, 21:39 PM IST

New Delhi: 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 today 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

"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
4,700 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

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 planes, 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.