Aviation Week & Space Technology Aug 16 , 2010 , p. 25
Printed headline: Fighter Choice Coming
With flight trials complete, the downselect process is underway for the six candidate fighters in India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (Mmrca), competition, with a $10 billion-plus payday for providing 126 aircraft.
Observers differ about how long it will take to narrow the field—the MiG-35, Dassault Rafale, EADS Eurofighter, Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18F/F and Lockheed Martin F-16—to two finalists. Some speculate an announcement might come in just two weeks; others insist it will take much longer to evaluate the extensive technical reports that the tests have produced. Regardless, a commercial bidding process will follow the downselect, and the winner is to be named by the end of 2011.
Trials included 643 test points. Results are being forwarded as tabulated data without a quantification of the level of compliance achieved, a senior Indian air force official reports. “We have done an objective assessment and are taking into account the needs of national security,” he says. But cost and politics will play a role in the defense ministry’s selection, he acknowledges. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India this year is expected to include a large transfer of technology.
India has yet to sign the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. that sets limits on exports of sensitive U.S. technology. It may be signed during President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit in November.
Beyond informal briefings that are said to have taken place, the six manufacturers are to receive a 250-page technical evaluation of their products. Problems during the trials included failures of engines, large electromechanical actuation systems and airworthiness certification.
Meanwhile, the defense ministry says it will buy 42 more Su-30MKI fighters, to be delivered in 2014-18. The $4.3-billion deal, which will run through Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., will bring the Indian Su-30 inventory to more than 250 aircraft and the number of HAL-assembled versions close to 200 fighters.
Talks continue with Russia about joint development of the T-50 (or PAK FA), a fifth-generation fighter developed by Sukhoi. The program is valued at $8 billion. It is not clear if those talks will work to the advantage of the MiG-35 fighter candidate.