Perspectives on the Indian Fighter Competition


2017-09-30 This month, our partner India Strategic published two articles, which provide updates on the Indian Air Force competition to add new fighter aircraft.

This would be in addition, to the already decided acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft.

The government is looking to acquire a single engine jet to build up its fighter force.

The frontrunners in this are Saab’s Gripen and Lockheed Martin’s F-16.

The first article addresses the F-16 and the second the Gripen offering.

Lockheed Martin in Jet Speed to Make F-16s in India

By Air Marshal VK Jimmy Bhatia (Retd)

During the Paris Air Show, on June 19, the company announced a coproduction agreement with the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TATA), and now it has disclosed that in anticipation of a contract from the Indian Air Force (IAF) for a single engine aircraft manufacturing facility, it has already initiated steps to create the required ecosystem in the country.

Diplomatic sources indicate that the US Government is also aggressively backing the Lockheed Martin proposal in Government-to-Government (G-2-G) talks with the Indian Government.

Mr Abhay Paranjpe, Executive Director, International Business Development and Mr Randall L Howard, Business Development head for F 16 said during a recent tete-a-tete with Team India Strategic in New Delhi that the company had already worked out the best available systems that could be integrated in the aircraft, assuring: “We will provide whatever the IAF asks for, and our technology will be unmatched and unprecedented.”

An artists view of F-16 Block 70 with nose-mounted IRST on take off roll. Credit: India Strategic

We pointed out that the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, had told us in an interview that IAF now logically expects better specifications than were asked for in the 2007 tender for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). The F 16, which was the first to bring a powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on board in its Block 60 aircraft delivered to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) way back in 2004, does not yet have the Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system.

IRST, which is there on board the French Rafale already taken by IAF, is a passive system and can detect hostile aircraft and targets between 60 to 100 km or so without being detected itself, unlike any radar system including the AESA. As the world’s biggest military hardware company, “we will be able to offer whatever the IAF wants, on time and cost,” said Paranjpe, adding that the Lockheed Martin proposal will include assured periodic upgrades.

AESA is a key component for contemporary and future aircraft, and can look up to 400 km depending upon the radar’s power and aircraft’s height.

Paranjpe also said that the new AESA, to be acquired from Northrop Grumman which had made it first for F 16 Block 60 and later for F 22 and F 35, will be of a new 4th generation, and compared to the earlier versions which are liquid cooled, will be air cooled and still perform better. It will be multimode, able to lock onto 20 targets simultaneously, and a pilot can priorities which targets to engage first.

Randall said that the company will meet any specs required by the IAF. The aircraft is comfortable in power and weight and can accommodate whatever is needed. Lockheed Martin will leverage some future technologies from its F 35.

“As the F 16 Block 70 will be a new generation aircraft, it will also share some components and latest technologies with those of the F 35 to the extent of 70-75 percent. The Block 70 will also have conformal fuel tanks for longer range.”

The company will shift the entire factory and production line from Fort Worth in Texas to India if – repeat if – the Ministry of Defence (MoD) selects the aircraft.

Notably, the global standard for aircraft availability is about 70 percent. This, or whatever is required by IAF, will be matched, Randall said

Paranjpe pointed out that IAF’s urgency in aircraft requirement is no secret, and the Indian order for a minimum of 100 first to be followed by many more later will be huge. “We have a great partnership with TASL, and we should be able to produce three to four aircraft every month for Indian and global requirements. We will create a big defence industrial base, a supply chain for not only India but for the world, and that will include spares.”

Asked about how much investment the company will put in, Panajpe and Randall said that they hoped that India will follow the US business model. There, a runway is shared by the US Air Force (USAF) and industry, the two being on either side of it, and that will determine how much Lockheed Martin will have to invest. Sharing facilities will help save costs and production and testing time.

With TASL and IAF working with us, it will simply be great, Panajpe observed, adding: “We are also ready to pass on the required knowledge and knowhow to local partners.”

Randall said that Lockheed Martin had produced nearly 4,600 aircraft in 138 variants and sold to 27 countries, including the US. Sixteen of these countries placed repeat orders.

He also pointed out, significantly, that while the Indian Ministry of Defence is yet to place the order under its new policy of Make in India and having a Strategic Partner, Lockheed Martin is doing its homework in anticipation of winning it. We have worked out the technologies onboard, Display Systems, Software, Air to Air and Air to ground Targeting Systems, and what to do with whom as part of our effort to create an enabling ecosystem and move literally at jet speed.

Saab, Adani Collaborate in Aerospace and Defence

New Delhi. Swedish Saab has literally offered a sweet dish to India, saying it will share the best of its aerospace technologies for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and give it full controls like the vital source codes on aircraft equipment and components so that IAF can play with them for modification to its requirements now and in the coming decades.

Pitching to sell the latest variant of its combat jet, Gripen E, Saab CEO and President Hakan Buskhe announced his company’s partnership with India’s Adani Group to Make the aircraft in India, observing: “ We are committed to the India-Sweden relationship and in bringing the latest technology and skills to India.”

Asked specifically about the source codes by India Strategic, Mr Bukhse indicated that the Swedes would give unfettered control over technologies to India, and hopefully meet whatever demands the Ministry of Defence (MoD) makes with regard to technologies.

The Saab Chairman addressed newsmen September 1 along with Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani, pointing out that Saab had finalized this partnership as the “Adani group is one of India’s largest conglomerates … with a long history of entrepreneurship spanning through decades of dynamic growth.”
“We are committed to the India-Sweden relationship and in bringing the latest technology and skills to India,” Mr Buskhe said adding: “Our plans in India are to create a new defence eco-system that would involve many partners, vendors and suppliers. To achieve this, we need a strong Indian partner who can help create the framework for the infrastructure and eco-system to come into place.”

Mr Adani said, “We are proud of our enduring relationship with Saab and look forward to partnering in major projects such as Gripen. Our various collaborations in aerospace and defence sectors will help establish new production lines in India, generate employment and build sustainable skills.”

He expressed confidence that his rich team of engineers and professionals, engaged in oil, infrastructure and other projects, would do well in defence industrial infrastructure also, and meet any specifications and timelines set by the Government for manufacturing the aircraft. The Group has several global partnerships already and employs 50,000 people.

MoD is looking for a single engine fighter to be produced in India, and the two companies in competition are the US Lockheed Martin and Sweden’s Saab. One of them will be picked up under the Strategic Partnership model with an Indian company to produce a minimum of about 100 but over the years some 300 to 400 or more Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) with periodic upgrades both for the Indian market.

Mr Ashish Rajvanshi, Head, Defence & Aerospace, Adani Group, said that the Group was firmly placed in expanding in the defence industrial sector. It is not just an opportunity for the industry but the need of the country which has to induct new and futuristic technologies towards self reliance.
Source Codes to a system are important, so that IAF and Indian engineers can integrate its own private algorithms in onboard computers and maintain its exclusive maintenance and operational control over the aircraft.

Sweden’s new envoy to India, Ambassador Klas Molin, who arrived only that day in the morning from his previous posting in Thailand, graced the occasion but declined to make any comment.

Notably, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa had told India Strategic in an earlier interview that IAF was looking for technologies newer than those stipulated in 2007, when the MMRCA tender was floated among six global aircraft manufacturers. Mr Bukhse promised that, saying that the latest generation Gripen E would meet the Indian expectations.

The aircraft will be equipped with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) combat radar, the passive Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system to locate hostile targets, Anti Radiation attack capability, a powerful Engine for longer range than before, and Stealth features.

The 2007 Request for Proposals (RfP) had included all these specs. At that time, one requirement for an anti radiation missile was available only from the US war technology giant, Raytheon, which produced its High Speed Anti Radiation Missile (HARM) for attack on radar facilities. It was integrated then only on board Boeing’s F 18 Super Hornet.

A similar system is now available though in Europe.

Besides better specs overall in the new requirements, five key systems are the heart of any deal, that is, AESA, IRST, Anti Radiation Attack capability, Range, and Stealth. Saab has promised all of them in its Gripen E.

The 2007 contest for 126 combat aircraft with an option for 63 more, included both the single engine aircraft now in competition for Make in India, the US Lockheed Martin F-16 and Swedish Saab Gripen.

SAAB Gripen. Credit: India Strategic

The contest was however scrapped and the Indian Government decided to buy 36 twin engine French Rafale, which led the competition, first in technology along with Eurofighter, and then in price.

In a joint statement, Saab and Adani said that their collaboration plan (is) within aerospace and defence in India, aligned with the Government of India’s Make in India initiative. The intended collaboration would encompass design, development and production of Gripen for India and other high-tech products of national importance for India and also the creation of joint ventures in India in line with and in support of the Make in India policy.

“Saab, in partnership with Adani Group, will discuss possibilities to offer solutions to bring required design and manufacturing capabilities in defence and aerospace to India. A collaboration between Saab and Adani will combine the technical and product excellence of Saab, along with the industrial engineering, system integration and mega project execution capabilities of Adani with the intention to manufacture defence systems locally in India.”

The two companies would keep in mind India’s focus on creating future-proof and home-grown capabilities across all industries, explore how to cooperate to develop a wider aerospace and defence ecosystem in India and encourage the development of small and medium sized enterprises along with a robust national supply chain.

The statement added: Gripen would be offered to the Indian Government as the best solution for India’s single-engine fighter aircraft programme. The collaboration would also include projects, programmes and technologies of national importance to India. The parties’ plan to develop the relationship into a structure of joint ventures in India for execution of the programmes, including the single engine fighter program, in order to support the Make in India policy and exhibit the parties long term commitment to be jointly successful.

Gripen is a modern multi-role fighter aircraft featuring state-of-the-art technology, including advanced data links and sensors plus a unique extensive electronic warfare suite. Gripen can perform all air-to-air, air-to-surface and reconnaissance missions with the most modern range of weapons and systems.

These articles have been republished by arrangement with our partner India Strategic.