MMRCA delayed as Indian procurement continues

 - May 6, 2010, 9:52 AM
Saab's Gripen NG demonstrator flies to India in the second half of May for trials. Indian pilots flew it eight times in Sweden in early April.

Attempts by India to fast-track the procurement process for its 126-aircraft Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft requirement have come unstuck as the evaluation process has taken far longer than initially expected. Under the original bidding contracts, the six competitors (F-16, F/A-18, MiG-35, Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon) were to have been evaluated in India by early last month, allowing India time to move to the next step before an April 28 deadline. That date has now passed and the evaluation is far from complete. Sweden's Gripen NG demonstrator and its Selex/Saab ES-05 AESA radar will be the last to go to India, having been held up by the need to undertake other trials for the Swedish air force. It will travel to India towards the end of this month, although the earlier JAS 39D variant has already been to India, and Indian pilots have flown the NG demonstrator in Sweden.

Under the original terms of the RFP, the competitors must now rebid their proposals, and it is likely that overall program costs will rise, while service entry slips further. The next selection step has now slipped by a year, and will probably involve a down-select to three aircraft. A factor in the new bids may be the Greek economic crisis, which has significantly weakened the Euro against the dollar, in turn favoring the European MMRCA candidates.

Meanwhile, the major recapitalization of the Indian air arms continues with new orders and intentions. Last week the long-reported interest in the Boeing C-17 airlifter gained new ground when U.S. Congress was notified of a potential sale of a 10-aircraft package for India, at an expected cost of around $5.8 billion. In March India ordered 12 AW101 helicopters from AgustaWestland for governmental transport duties. Other recent orders include six C-130J special-mission Hercules and large numbers of Mi-171 helicopters. The Indian Navy is in the process of receiving MiG-29K carrier-borne fighters, and will also get eight Boeing P-8 maritime patrollers.