US will have to offer India generous terms to seal combat aircraft deal: Expert

Washington, Jan.28 (ANI): If the United States is keen to win the race for supplying new medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to the Indian Air Force, it will need to offer generous terms on the transfer of technology, assure India access to fifth-generation U.S. combat aircraft, and provide strong support for India's strategic ambitions -to counter the perception that the older U.S. designs in the MMRCA race are less combat effective.

Expressing this view in an article for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, senior associate Ashley J. Tellis said that in making its decision, the Indian Government must keep the Indian Air Force's interests consistently front and center to ensure that its ultimate choice of aircraft is the best one for the service.

"This will not only help India to strengthen its combat capabilities in the coming years, but also position it as a rising global power worthy of respect far into the future," Tellis opines.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is entering the final stages of selecting 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) at a cost of about 10 billion dollars.

This is the largest Indian fighter tender in years. Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the outcome of the selection process, which has garnered high-profile attention for its sheer size, its international political implications, and its impact on the viability of key aircraft manufacturers.

The winner will obtain a long and lucrative association with India, a rising power and secure a toehold into other parts of India's rapidly modernizing strategic industries.

Once selected, the aircraft will play an essential role in India's military modernization as the country transitions from a regional power to a global giant.

Tellis says that ever since the 1971 war against Pakistan, India's defense strategy has relied on maintaining superior airpower relative to both China and Pakistan.

And therefore, in the event of a regional conflict, Indian air power would serve as the country's critical war-fighting instrument of first resort.

He reveals that India's force levels have reached an all-time low of 29 squadrons due to delays in its defense procurement process as well as accidents and retirements of older fighter aircraft, and that the IAF is not expected to reach the currently authorized force levels of 39.5 squadrons before 2017.

He says in his article titled "Dogfight! India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Decision" that with India's neighbors aggressively modernizing their own air forces, India's need to expand its combat aircraft inventories becomes all the more urgent.

In choosing an aircraft, India must employ a speedy decision process that is focused on the right metrics, taking both technical and political considerations into account, Tellis says.

"The IAF has already evaluated the six MMRCA competitors against 660 technical benchmarks and has provided its recommendations to the Ministry of Defense. While the IAF has paid special attention to the fighters' sensors and avionics, weapons, aerodynamic effectiveness, and mission performance, India's civilian security managers are certain to emphasize technology transfer as well as costs when making their decision," he adds.

"In fact, the winning aircraft for the IAF ought to be chosen on the triangular criteria of technical merit, relative cost, and optimal fit within the IAF's evolving force architecture. Political considerations, however, will be key in the selection process," he states further.

"In choosing the winning platform, Indian policymakers will seek to: minimize the country's vulnerability to supply cutoff s in wartime, improve its larger military capacity through a substantial technology infusion, and forge new transformative geopolitical partnerships that promise to accelerate the growth of Indian power globally," Tellis says.

Given the technical and political considerations, New Delhi should conclude the MMRCA competition expeditiously, avoid splitting the purchase between competitors, and buy the "best" aircraft to help India to effectively prepare for possible conflict in Southern Asia, he adds.

Because of the dramatic transformations in combat aviation technology currently underway, the Indian Government should select the least expensive, mature, combat-proven fourth generation fighter for the IAF as a bridge toward procuring more advanced stealth aircraft in the future.

Under this criterion, the European aircraft are technically superb, but the U.S. entrants prove to be formidable "best buys" Tellis says.

From the summer of 2009 to the summer 2010, the IAF supervised flight trials of the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, the French Dassault Aviation Rafale, the Russian RSK MiG's MiG-35, the European Eurofi ghter Consortium's Typhoon, and the Swedish Saab Gripen NG (Next Generation).

Besides the extensive demonstrations conducted in the home countries of these manufacturers, the IAF also directed grueling fl y-off s in three different Indian locations - Bangalore, Jaisalmer, and Leh-to test the comparative performance of the aircraft under conditions of extreme humidity, intense heat, and high field elevations, respectively.

These field trials constituted just the fourth of the eight stages called for by India's defense procurement procedures for major purchases.

Tellis says that the Indian Request for Proposals (RFP) requires that 60 percent of the aircraft's technology be transferred to India in four phases, with different percentages of technology transfer occurring in each phase.

This conveyance is intended to underwrite both the indigenous manufacture of the selected aircraft and its subsequent maintenance and support, with 50 percent of the foreign exchange component of the purchase costs being defrayed through direct off sets within the Indian aerospace sector.

Given the IAF's weakening force structure, it is a distinct possibility that the eventual Indian MMRCA buy will exceed the initial 126 aircraft.

"The fact that India's civilian security managers in the Ministry of Defense and, ultimately, its political leaders who man the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), will make the final decision about which aircraft will be procured, underscores one critical reality about the prospective MMRCA countdown.

Tellis says that his report on India's MMRCA competition has three broad objectives:

First, it elucidates the kind of combat aircraft that would be necessary for India, given the operational environment that the IAF is likely to confront. Political considerations are likely to influence which aircraft is eventually selected.

Second, it illuminates the difficult tradeoff s that India would be confronted with as it chooses among six excellent airplanes on the triangular criteria of technical merit, relative cost, and force structure integrity.

Third, it seeks to achieve the foregoing aims by advancing three specific injunctions that policymakers in New Delhi should take to heart as they make their fi nal decision: (1) conclude the MMRCA competition expeditiously; (2) do not split the MMRCA purchase; and, (3) buy the "best" aircraft for the mission.

Tellis concludes by saying that the MMRCA bid has been one of the hottest recent aviation procurements not just in India, but internationally, too.

Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the outcome of this contest.

"This has turned into such a sizzling affair not only because of the size of the contract. Indeed, there are bigger procurement battles raging internationally. Rather, this procurement bid has been incandescent because it involves geopolitics, the economic fortunes of major aerospace companies, complex transitions in combat aviation technology, and the evolving character of the IAF itself," he says. (ANI)

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