By Robbin Laird
During the Airbus Trade Media 2012 event in Toulouse, I had a chance to sit down with Pravin Sawhney, Editor of the Indian defense magazine, Force, and to get caught up on the state of play in the Indian fighter selection process.
Last year, Sawhney provided us with some perspective prior to the final downselect decision.
In this interview, Sawhney broke the process down into several parts.
The initial process was the Indian AF making the technical evaluation, which led to the downselect of Rafale and Eurofighter.
“Of the 6 contenders, only 2 – the Eurofighter and Rafale – were considered by the IAF as meeting the core needs for the IAF.”
Next, the current phase is one in which negotiations with Dassault are being managed by the Ministry of Defense to shape a final contract. This committee of MOD bureaucrats has no formal participation by the Indian Air Force.
“The joint secretary of the negotiating committee now is preparing a report about negotiations with the vendor. And with the vendor, various aspects cost, lifecycle costs, everything is being worked out.”
But, in the midst of this process, a Member of Parliament has formally raised objections to the Rafale selection on grounds of corruption.
“A sitting member of Parliament has written to the Defense Minister that in the selection of Rafale something is unfair in this selection procedure, which needs to be investigated.”
The Defense Minister has instituted an inquiry to deal with this charge.
“This Minister is the longest serving Indian Defense Minister in the history of India.
Prior to him, no one has been Defense Minister for the six years, which he has currently served.
He has been very vigilant about corruption charges, so if these charges escalate in some way, he will be very responsive to the need to deal with them.”
While the inquiry is proceeding, feelers are being made to Eurofighter to determine whether their cost can come down and they might become more competitive.
“We also have a few feelers being sent out to Eurofighter that have asked them to review cost, because technically they made it above the line.”
But if the Defense Minister determines that further investigations are warranted, then the decision would be pushed to the right, and might fall into the post-2014 period.
The impact would be very serious for the Indian Air Force as they need a new combat aircraft in operations sooner rather than later.
According to Sawhney, this creates a very negative situation for the Indian Air Force.
“Even if the contract is signed in 2013, it will take at least three years to have new aircraft in the inventory. The IAF is deeply concerned if there are further delays about their ability to get new aircraft operational.”