In the beginning there were the following offerings:
- From Europe: Dassault Rafale (France), Saab Gripen (Sweden) and Eurofighter Typhoon (
- From Russia: Mikoyan MiG-35
- From the US: Lockheed-Martin F-16IN and Boeing F/A-18E/F (initially not invited but still bid by Boeing)
126 aircraft – 18 initial direct purchase, the remainder local manufacture under license and with technology transfer to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL). An offering worth 42,000 crore (US $9.2B) – no chump change these days.
Early on Dassault and then Mikoyan dropped out, only to drop back in again. The US entries were considered with interest, but skepticism reigned over what form the US versions would offer (dumbed down weapons systems or the latest technology). Saab’s Gripen, based on other international successes (e.g., Brazil) and Eurofighter’s Typhoon seemed to have the early lead. As the competition drew out over the better part of a half-decade, positions solidified, then faded – the F-16, in an offering similar to the Israeli AF F-16I while proven, was deemed too close to Pakistan’s less capable, but similar in appearance F-16′s. Ongoing issues with the MiG-29 fleet (the popular press in India regularly labels them “flying coffins”) and being last to the party with an AESA radar (and still developmental at that) tempered enthusiasm for the MiG-35. Similar in many respects to the Mirage 2000, the Rafale would benefit from the least change to logistics and support with the InAF already flying the Mirage 2000 and no export restrictions. However, reporting in April ’09 that the Rafale was disqualified because of failure to meet the technical specifications of the bid (officially denied) seemed to shade it’s place in the competition, and a scandal involving hookers, bribery and InAF senior officers at the Aero India 2011 expo may put a stake in Dassault’s quest. Eurofighter’s Typhoon has strong technical features, including an offer by EADS to equip it with thrust-vectoring thereby improving performance and economy and reportedly did very well in the flying portion of the competition, however with limited operational deployment, outside of the UK and Germany, tempered enthusiasm somewhat. Boeing’s F/A-18 was initially viewed circumspectly for its size and reportedly was not as maneuverable as the smaller fighters, but scored major points on versatility and technology with a full-up AESA that was already in operation with the USN and accompanying technology transfer offer. And then the Indian Navy weighed in, apparently strengthening Boeing’s hand.
All six were on display at Bangalore along with a mocked up international version of the F/A-18 that would be the basis of the Indian variant. Eurofighter, not to be upstaged, unveiled its navalized version of the Typhoon – but it may have suffered a setback when
England the UK opted to go with the F-35C variant of the JSF vice a navalized Eurofighter as part of the restructuring of it’s armed forces. The commercial bids are projected to be opened for official review perhaps as early as this May with an announcement of a winner in about a year. As the saying goes — this should be interesting…