Thursday, August 12, 2010

Indian Fighter Downselect Imminent

AWIN First Aug 12 , 2010
Neelam Mathews

A downselect announcement is expected within two weeks now that flight trials have concluded for the six candidate fighters in India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program, a competition with a $10 billion-plus payday for providing 126 aircraft.

India is expected to pick two finalists among the MiG- 35, Dassault Rafale, EADS Eurofighter, Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin F-16. A commercial bidding process will follow, with final selection expected by the end of 2011.

Trials included the evaluation of 643 parameters, a senior air force official reports. “We have done an objective assessment and are taking into account the needs of national security,” he says. But he acknowledges that cost and politics will play a role.

The importance of geopolitics has not been lost on the candidates’ advocates. French President Sarkozy’s visit to India this year is expected to be followed by a host of inducements, including a large transfer of technology, to tempt India to buy the Rafale.

India has yet to sign the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. that sets limits on the export of sensitive technology. It may be signed during President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to India in November.

Unofficially, Indian air force officers report, candidate aircraft were not ranked. Test results reflect their performance on the various tests. Officials tell AVIATION WEEK the test results put Rafale and Eurofighter at the top. But no official ranking has been released.

The ministry is believed to have briefed four vendors on where their systems underperformed. Still, all six candidates will be invited to present a 250-page technical evaluation of their aircraft before the downselect.

Problems during the trials included engine failures, issues with large electromechanical actuation systems and submission of improper air worthiness certificates.

Meanwhile, India is in ongoing talks with Russia on joint development of a fifth-generation fighter with Sukhoi, a deal worth $8 billion. Whether those talks will work to the advantage of the MiG-35 multi-mission fighter candidate is unclear.

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