The Indian government has come up with the Indian Air Force Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Competition, commonly known as the MRCA Tender, which is an ongoing competition to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 Multi-Role Combat Aircraft inorder to modernize and expand the Indian Air Force. The Defence Ministry has allocated INR 42,000 crore (US$9.11 billion) for the purchase of these aircraft.
There are six companies that have been approached for this multi billion dollar contract , which is the single largest defence deal ever for India. India aims to procure 18 aircraft in flyaway condition and produce 106 locally under license through technology transfer. The delivery will start within 36 months of contract signing and will be completed 48 months later.
The following Six Aircrafts are the latest combat aircrafts that are being developed or fielded today , which India is looking to procure through the MMRCA Competition:
1 . Eurofighter Typhoon
According to India’s Ambassador Arif Shahid Khan, quoted by the Reuters news agency, “Eurofighter Typhoon is leading the race to win the new fighter deal for the Indian Air Force “. The Ambassador stressed the top position held by Eurofighter Typhoon during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome. The Eurofighter Typhoon offers a broad spectrum of operational advantages, such as excellent adaptability to severe weather conditions, high mission effectiveness and survivability in threat situations as well as considerable in country economic benefits. The Eurofighter Typhoon is a fore-plane delta wing beyond-visual-range and close air fighter aircraft with surface attack capability. Eurofighter has high agility at supersonic speed and also has a ’supercruise’ capability , that can fly at sustained speeds offering high reliability. The Eurofighter Typhoon has also offered India seem-less development partnership and EADS(European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company) is already helping to develop India’s LCA(Light Combat Aircraft’s). If the Typhoon wins the contract , India would be invited by the Eurofighter Typhoon program to become a partner and will be given all technological and developmental aid. Eurofighter Typhoon also provides no end user restrictions and they also have an easy transfer of technology. Eurofighter Typhoon is a heavy ,25 ton expensive aircraft ,its AESA radar is still under development and it has no combat experience.
2 . Dassault-Rafale
The other strong contender for the MMRCA competition is the Dassault-Rafale which is capable of carrying out a wide range of short and long-range missions,that include ground and sea attack, air defence and high – accuracy strike or nuclear strike deterrence. The Rafale is similar to Mirage 2000 in operations and logistics and has a distinct advantage as it was used with great success during the Kargil War. The Rafale is a twin-engined, delta-wing, multirole fighter designed and built by France’s Dassault Aviation. Rafale’s supportability and mission readiness capitalise on the undisputed track record of the current generation of French fighters such as the combat-proven Mirage 2000. The IAF’s Mirage -2000 fleet already has a comfort level with the Dassault Rafale.The transfer of technology is again smooth with no end user restrictions. It is the only non-US fighter aircraft with deployed AESA radar. The Dassauft Rafale is a 25 tonne, expensive aircraft with limited combat experience.
3 . Saab Gripen NG
Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab which is a fourth-generation fighter swing-role aircraft which is capable of performing multiple missions. The company has said that it is on schedule for delivery ahead of the other aircrafts in contention for the MMRCA program. Gripen has indicated that a “wide range of state-of-the-art weapons can be sourced from manufacturers worldwide, giving the Indian Air Force freedom of choice by avoiding sole source supply constraints.” Gripen International is offering the Gripen IN, a version of the Gripen NG (Next Generation) for India’s competition. The Gripen NG has increased fuel capacity, more powerful power plant, higher payload, upgraded avionics and other improvements. The Gripen IN is a medium-weight multi-role fighter aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 16.5 ton. The Gripen NG demo aircraft passed its high altitude tests in Leh, and also other hot weather tests.
4 . Mikoyan MiG-35
The Mikoyan MIG-35 is the production version of the latest MiG-29 and incorporates mature development of the MiG-29M/M2 and MiG-29K/KUB technology. The IAF already operates 65 MiG-29s, and the Navy has ordered 16 MiG-29Ks for its aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly know as Admiral Gorshkov). Since the IAF already has maintenance and upgrade facilities for the MiG-29, this would mean that the plane could be brought into service with minimum expenditure on infrastructure. Also Russia is willing to give full ToT(Transfer of Technology which is an added advantage. Russia has provided support for equipments in the past during international sanctions. Russia unveiled the MiG-35 at Aero India 2007 in Bangalore, amid Moscow’s keen interest to sell these planes to India. This was the first time that the final version of the MiG-35 was publicly displayed at an international air show, and thus, generated a great deal of interest. A major advantage of MiG-35 is that Russia is committed to transfer the plane’s technology, including the new advanced Zhuk-AE Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, to India.The Zhuk AE AESA radar is considered the most powerful amidst the MMRCA contenders. Russia, on top of a full technology transfer, is offering India help in building its own advanced radar. However, Russian product support, especially for the MiG-29 fleet has been inadequate. Additionally, buying the MiG-35 would mean an almost total dependence on a single supplier for India’s entire fighter fleet. Thers is also a 100 per cent technology transfer for the MiG-35, including the radar and all its systems however the airframe barely improved from MiG-29 and the life cycle cost of Russian fighters is traditionally high.
The Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, the fifth Aircraft in this competition is touted as the most advanced and mordernized version of the F-16 ever. India initially sent the RFI for a F-16C/D Block 52+ configuration aircraft. On January 17, 2008, Lockheed Martin offered a customized version of the F-16, the F-16IN Super Viper for the Indian MMRCA contract.The F-16N includes conformal fuel tanks that will give the F-16N a combat range of 1700km with 1500 kg weapon load.It includes a AN/APG-80 AESA (Active electronically scanned array) radar.
The F-16IN, which is similar to the F-16 Block 60, will be a 4.5 generation aircraft. Lockheed Martin has stated that it will be the most advanced F-16 variant developed. Lockheed Martin has also offered India the sale of the F-35 lightning aircraft in future as replacements if F-16 IN wins the bid.
6 . Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The last aircraft participating in the MMRCA competition is the Super Hornet which is about 25% larger than its predecessor, the F/A-18C/D but contains 42% fewer structural parts. The MMRCA competition represents a prime opportunity for US defence companies to gain a strong foothold in the Indian defence industry which is estimated about US $100bn in the next 10 years. The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is the aircraft being offered to India that has an AESA radar. However there will be a limited ToT (Transfer of Technology) on the radar, up to the level approved by the US Government. The single seat F/A-18/E and the two seat F/A-18/F flies greater ranges, with heavier payloads using a more powerful engine which provides greater survivability. Boeing has proposed joint manufacture of the jets with Indian partners. It also plans to offset the cost by setting up a US$100 million maintenance and training hub in Nagpur. There is a long-term partnership agreement being signed between Boeing and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) along with Tata Industries, and Larsen and Torbo, who will play a significant role in production and assembly of these aircrafts.