2013-12-13 by Robbin Laird
In spite of economic difficulties in the U.S. and Europe, the decade ahead will be a significant one in the purchase and deployment of new fighter aircraft.
No countries are more important in this evolution outside of Europe and the Asian Rim than India and Brazil.
And the potential for the two cooperate, although difficult, could emerge as well.
The Indians are finalizing their deal with the French for Rafale; but the Brazilians remain in play.
Will they shape a Rafale option for India and Brazil?
Or will the Russians re-shape the competition to become the vortex of the new fighter enterprise?
The Indian Dynamic
India will operate the largest fleet of C-17s outside of the United States. They have added C-130Js and are adding A330 MRTTs.
They are to add a new combat aircraft, most likely the Rafale (which has been officially chosen but the deal has not been finalized. The Indians are working with the Russians on a new version of the Sukhoi, and are more generally looking to modernize their air delivered weapons arsenal.
The Indians have added the P-8 and opportunities to work with the USN on common ISR capabilities in the Indian and Pacific oceans is an option.
Although the death of the key Indian negotiator to finalize the Rafale deal has slowed things down, and the coming election next year may delay it as well, progress is being made in India with regard to the Rafale option.
According to a recent press report, Dassault has finalized agreement with a key company in India to build the wing sets for the Indian Rafale.
France’s Dassault Aviation and Reliance Industries are planning to set up a facility to produce wings of Rafale combat aircraft selected by IAF for meeting its requirement of 126 fighter planes.
The two firms are planning to set up a Rs 1,000-crore facility for producing the wings of the Rafale combat aircraft and it is most likely to come up in Bangalore, industry sources told PTI in New Delhi.
This would suggest that the finalization of the deal is highly probable, but perhaps having to wait until the next election.
This makes Brazil and its delayed decision on buying fighter aircraft of enhanced interest.
It is clearly the case that Brazil is not just looking to buy a fighter but shaping partners in the further advancement of their military aviation industry, which is to say Embraer. Embraer is developing a new air lifter, and is looking to enhance its missions systems business.
Also, the NSA crisis has not played well in Brazil, and the President of Brazil is running for re-election next year. And certainly all of this plays a role in determining the outcome.
Boeing has been hoping to sell its F-18 and to have a broader partnership with Embraer, which could encompass the Embraer airlifter, already involves weapons support to the Super Tucano, and could encompass mission systems aircraft, along the lines they proposed already in Africa.
But the F-18 line is coming to the end of its days, and prospects for global exports from Brazil may not be robust. And there is clearly a taste in the mouth of Brazilians after the kind of nativist reaction Embraer has received from the Super Tucano and the cancellation of the Army surveillance plane competition earlier.
The next competitor of significance is SAAB. The Gripen certainly could fit the bill and their relationship with Thailand demonstrates the ability of the company to put together an integrated air package including air battle management and surveillance.
But a difficulty, which came up in the prior, Administration was simply that the Gripen relies heavily on U.S. parts, and if the U.S. connection is a problem, this could be a problem as well.
President Lula clearly favored the Rafale in part for this reason.
According to a 2010 Brazilian press report:
Brazil has signed a strategic defense agreement with France worth billions of dollars, including the local assembly of helicopters and conventional and nuclear-powered submarine.
Lula da Silva had at least on two occasions anticipated he preferred the French offer in spite of the fact the Brazilian Air Force leaked a report saying the Swedish Gripen was the best choice given its low maintenance costs.
However one of the decisive factors, according to sources quoted by the newspaper, is that both Boeing and Saab have numerous US manufactured components which could in a future prevent Brazil’s sovereign decision to sell jet fighters to third countries.
There have been tensions over the implementation of the submarine program, which may negatively affect Rafale’s chances.
An advantage which Rafael has other the Russians and the Swedes is the evolution of the Rafale itself and its maturation. It is combat certified in many cases, including Libya and Mali, and is a key element of the French force in the Central African Republic (CAR). The maintenance approach has matured as well, and its ability to be supported in difficult terrains and in expeditionary operations is now battle tested.
The new Thales reconnaissance pod made its debut in Libya and is being used effectively in the CAR right now.
According to Murielle Delaporte, the editor of Soutien Logistique Defense, a French magazine specialized on support and maintenance issues, and who has seen the Rafale in operation in both France and abroad, the argument about the growing maturity of the aircraft is an important one:
Compared with the initial stage of the Rafale talks between France and Brazil, the winds could blow again in favor of the French fighter. The main argument is its combat proven quality: whether over Libya and Mali, the Rafale has demonstrated a high level performance with close to ten hour flight long missions at the beginning of the Serval operation earlier this year.
The readiness of the aircraft is intertwined with its multi-role characteristics: the fact that it is able to perform different kinds of missions including the highest demanding one – i.e. nuclear deterrence – has led to a 24/7 alert level capability.
Counting far more operational flight hours than some other fighters, the experience in maintaining the fighter in its numerous configurations and upgrades has been significant in the past few years.
Many initial problems such as false breakdown alerts have been totally solved and the cost of maintenance is going down as a result. Reliability and flexibility are the main selling points of a fighter that proves itself every day in multiple missions.
In other words, the evolution of the Rafael itself has enhanced its chances in the Brazilian competition.
Playing an Indian Card in Brazil
But it is clear from Ken Maxwell’s analysis that Dassault and the French government are making a strong case for Rafale and for an expanded relationship.
And there is the Indian card which can be played whereby Rafale in Brazil and India could provide a useful venue for greater cooperation between Embraer and Brazilian industry, on the one hand, and HAL and Indian industry on the other.
And there is at least one public indication of Indian interest in working with Brazil, perhaps along these lines.
In a Times of India report from early 2012:
In an unusual bilateral tie-up, India has agreed to share with Brazil some of its experiences of carrying out an open tender evaluation to select a fighter for the over $10 billion MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) contract. Brazil is presently in the process of selecting a fighter for its air force.
India conveyed its willingness to share some of its documentation on the MMRCA contract during a meeting between defence minister AK Antony and his Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim.
“Brazil is in the process of buying a fighter jet. You have already reached the final stages of the fighter selection for the air force. They have promised to give us some documents on the selection process, such as basic rules on the tender process that we could compare to ours,” Amorim told TOI.
But France is not the only player engaged in an Indian play towards Brazil with its product.
The Russians are pushing hard to end up with a Russian-Indian-Brazilian new Sukhoi joint plane.
“During the talks in Brazil, we are ready to offer our partners deliveries of ready-for-sale advanced aircraft like the Su-35, but also joint development of a next-generation [combat] aircraft of the T-50 type,” the delegation source said.
The T-50 or PAK-FA, which will make up the core of Russia’s future fighter fleet, is a multirole warplane featuring “stealth” technology,” super-maneuverability, super-cruise capability, and advanced avionics including an active electronically scanned array radar, according to its designer Sukhoi.
The Putin government is pushing hard to shape a growing role in Brazil on many military equipment fronts, not just fighter aircraft.
This is yet further evidence of a broader outreach of Russia already seen in South Korea, Syria, Iran and Cyprus.
In Brazil, Russian and Brazilian officials will sign the previously discussed contracts for the supply of Panzir-S1 air defense systems and individual complexes 9K38 Igla worth more than a billion dollars. Shoigu will have a meeting with Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim, Chief of Staff José Carlos de Nardi and possibly President Dilma Rousseff. During the visit, Rosoboronexport intends to offer Brazil to buy Russian fighter jets Su-35, including the possible transfer of technology for their production. The Russian minister will also discuss collaboration on the development of fifth-generation fighter aircraft PAK FA T-50.
The activity of the Russian side is based on Brazil’s move to suspend the implementation of the signed contract for the purchase of U.S. F-18 fighter jets worth about $ 4 billion. The move is based on Brazil’s dissatisfaction over America’s total surveillance of the Brazilian president, government and public companies.
However, according to the Brazilian press, the problem is that it is impossible to re-include Russia in the tender for F-X2, since Sukhoi design bureau with the same aircraft dropped out of the tender in the first round. If this tender is closed and a new one opens for F-X3, it may cause damage to reputation and possibly trigger a diplomatic conflict, the Brazilian newspaper Estadão wrote.
In short, Brazil and India are key centerpieces to the future of key aspects of the global military aviation market.
Will they collaborate?
Will they co-buy, in effect?
Or will they go their separate ways?
And does the F-18 has a ghost of chance as the competition in Brazil goes on?
T-50 photo credit: