Multi-Role Fighter - Tranch II
By 2021 India was considering acquiring an additional 114 fighters. The main candidates previously considered single-engine aircraft - the Swedish Gripen E and the American F-16 Fighting Falcon. More recently, the republic declared that it was ready to admit to twin-engine aircraft as well. The main -twin-jet contenders are the French Rafale, the Russian Su 35 and MiG 35, and the American F-15EX.
Russia received an invitation from the Indian side to participate in the tender for the supply of light fighters. The deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), Anatoly Punchuk, told reporters on 22 February 2019. “The tender has not been officially announced until the invitation to participate has been received,” noted Punchuk. The Russian side will offer the MiG-35 complex. Under the terms of India, foreign participants must involve local strategic partners. As said Punchuk, in the field of aircraft it is the corporation HAL. According to the deputy head of the FSMTC, negotiations with her about joint participation in the tender are already underway.
Foreign fighter jet makers saw a multi-billion dollar opportunity in India's decision to scale back purchases of high-end aircraft from France, which may free up rupees to buy a new fleet of mid-range planes. Sweden's SAAB offered to help in development of AMCSA but is yet to receive a response from the Indian establishment. Sweden's Saab was set to re-pitch their Gripen planes, eliminated in the Rafale tender, as the kind of lighter, single-engine aircraft that Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said the air force needed to rebuild its fleet. The other fighter in the running was the American F-16. Neither aircraft has a brilliant long term future in the interlational arms market, so the Indian indigenization hankering to Make in India is not implausible.
The four-nation European Aeronautic Defense and Space consortium (EADS) reaffirmed its proposal to offer Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to India if its long-disputed deal to acquire French Rafale jets falls through, German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner said 08 April 2015. "The consortium stands ready with their proposal. The governments of the four nations are supporting this proposal because they are convinced it is a good one both in terms of quality of the product and price," the diplomat was quoted as saying by the Indian news outlet Odisha Sun Times.
In April 2016 Boeing and Lockheed Martin reportedly met top defence ministry officials to meet the Indian Air Force's desperate need for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. They both offered to locally manufacture the F/A 18 'Super Hornet' and F16 'Super Viper' along with a production line in India. Defense ministry officials stated that while US defence manufacturers promise full technology transfer, the US government often invokes certain clauses or rules to restrict key technology transfer.
By October 2016 New Delhi wanted to add a ninth fighter type to its fleet, and had sent invitations to overseas defense firms. "This is very much on the table and I’m sure whoever gives the best deal [will win.] All the aircraft are very capable, so it will depend upon who provides the best transfer of technology; and, of course, the price tag. It’s on the table; nothing is decided as yet," Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Arup Raha said, according to the Diplomat October 12, 2016. "This will not be just licensed manufacture. It will be proper transfer of technology. Also, India will become a hub for manufacturing, as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) for other air forces in the region."
Two firms seem to be under top consideration. "If it is single-engine fighter, there are mainly two: Lockheed Martin and Saab," said Muthumanikam Matheswaran, retired IAF Air Marshal, according to Defense News. Ultimately, the new aircraft will be used to replace the aging MiGs.
Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said at a news conference 03 January 2017 that New Delhi was inviting global bids for a foreign-designed single-engine fighter that would be assembled in India. According to Parrikar, a western partner for the fighter would be chosen based on pricing and terms for the transfer of the technology.
He added that the Indian Air Force will receive another line of fighters to be produced under the Strategic Partnership model. Even though the Ministry of Defence’s Aatre Committee mooted the SP model in April 2016, an MoD official said that a private company in India will be chosen to manufacture the fighters in India by the end of 2017.
Global bids were set to be solicited in 2018, at which point a private company would be chosen as a production agency for the SP, kicking off an evaluation period to conduct trials and assess technical and financial bids. Officials said this process could take two years or longer, with the final deal slated to be signed in 2021.
The Strategic Partnership concept called for selecting a few private sector companies to be designated as SPs. A senior IAF official told Defense News, "We will submit a new acceptance of necessity proposal for new single engine fighters to Ministry of Defense in the next four months, and will request to fast-pace this new program," adding that the "IAF will put up a demand for 200 new single engine fighters to be made in India, which will easily cost around $45 million apiece without weaponry."
The strength of IAF’s fleet was depleted, as they had about 34 operational fighter squadrons, making them short of the 45 that were expected to be required in the event of a fight against Pakistan and China. The force was seeking to replace it’s 11 squadrons of aging Russian MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft.
Sweden’s Saab Group was expected to pitch its Gripen multirole fighter aircraft while multinational aerospace company Lockheed Martin was expected to offer the its Block 70 version of the venerable F-16 fighter jet.
Some saw the Russian-designed SU-30 multirole fighter as an alternative if the deal with France’s Dassault Aviation falls through, a source in the Indian Ministry of Defense told Sputnik on 12 January 2015. “No doubt there are complications regarding the Rafale deal as the deal is lingering but at present no final decision has been taken by the Ministry of Defense in this regard and status quo remain the same. But in case the deal fails SU-30 may be the option,” the source said.
Acquiring Russian-designed Sukhoi Su-30MKI instead of France's Rafale fighter aircraft would be the most beneficial option for India in terms of price and performance characteristics, a spokesman for the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT) said 12 January 2015. “If India chooses not to buy French Rafale fighter aircraft in favor of Russian Su-30MKI, it would be beneficial for the Indian side in every aspect. The tactical and technical characteristics of the Russian plane are much better than those of the French fighter jet,” the spokesman said.
Saab Group has offered Gripen E for the Indian Air Force, which is looking to replenish its depleting fleet of fighter jets. It currently needs over 300 fighters. Additionally, in Janaruy 2017 the Indian Navy said it planned to buy 57 carrier-based warplanes, for which Saab has offered the naval version of Gripen called the Gripen Maritime. Saab will focus on "flexibility, affordability and offer the best product."
Saab Group is prepared to meet the need for fighter warplanes in both the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with its Gripen variants as a "total package." "End of the day if the Indian Air Force, Indian Navy and the government come to the conclusion that they would like to go for both versions (of Gripen), then of course it will be foolish not to discuss a total package," Saab Group President and CEO Håkan Buskhe said on the sidelines of the Aero India show 17 February 2017.
Gripen combines exceptional operational performance, highly advanced net-centric warfare, sensor fusion, unique BVR capability and cost efficiency with true transfer of technology and comprehensive industrial partnership. When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented the idea of Make in India on the Independence Day function, 2014, it brought focus on what India was trying to do – increase indigenous manufacturing - both for India’s domestic consumption, and for export too. Make in India is a very powerful idea, as India has a competitive advantage in terms of human resources and also high-end technology in many areas.
The Make in India movement can do a lot of good for both India and Indians in terms of increased job opportunities. India can also leverage her large skilled population for a bigger piece of the global manufacturing pie. “We believe that there should be a Knowledge Transfer Mechanism built into the core of all joint production. In an interconnected world, the goal should be to see how both Indian and foreign companies can share knowledge, and learn from each other. In that way, Make in India will transform itself into a mission which will be spoken about in the years to come, by providing a tremendous boost to joint development and manufacturing”, says Jan Widerström, Chairman and Managing Director, Saab India Technologies Pvt Ltd (SITL).
“Saab is willing to offer Gripen to India, an offer consisting of a unique combination of operational performance, availability, cost effectiveness, technology transfer and industrial partnership. The offer includes setting up of a full manufacturing facility; transfer of state-of-the-art technology; setting up of an aerospace eco-system in India; creation of a local supplier base of ancillary systems; employment of a well-trained Indian workforce. We would train engineers in Sweden, as we’re doing with Brazilian engineers right now for the Brazilian Gripen program. We see ourselves as a catalyst. We will provide India with cutting-edge technology which will energise India’s aerospace ecosystem”, says Jan Widerström.
Saab believes that Gripen is the perfect fighter aircraft for India’s requirements. “Gripen would serve India well, with a lasting impact on the existing support infrastructure. In a force mix with India’s existing fleet, Gripen would be the ideal frontline fighter for the country. We believe Gripen is more than just a smart fighter – it will provide air powerand industrial growth for India. It will be a national asset of India”, says Jan.
At Aero India 2017, Saab’s Robert Hewson said “What differentiates us from the competition is that when people talk about ‘Make in India’, you hear a lot about transferring assembly lines and manufacturing. Manufacturing is a tiny part of what is important – what India must have for its air power sovereignty in the future is the ability to design, develop and own those aircraft – not simply metal mashing and making somebody else’s airplane. The idea is to make an airplane for India”.
“We want to create India’s Gripen. Our objective would be that pretty much all the entire aircraft be made in India. We are offering the real secret stuff that makes fighter combat systems. This is a long and complex process, it will not happen overnight. This will be as much Indian as India wants, as much as India can handle, and as soon as India is ready. We are using the same philosophy in our Brazil programme as well”.
Saab, which showcased its fighter jet at the air show, reiterated its commitment to establishing what it called a world class aviation facility in India to manufacture the Gripen both for India and the global market. Pitching for its Gripen aircraft, sales director Kent-Ake Molin told reporters ahead of the air show that "what we are offering is a futuristic, new generation plane and not one that is reaching the end of its life."
F-15EX Eagle Export
Flight Global, a global aviation website, reported that US aerospace giant Boeing is contemplating offering its F-15EX fighter to the Indian Air Force and has sought clearance from the Donald Trump administration. Boeing has already offered its F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet to the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy, which is seeking to buy 57 aircraft to operate from its aircraft carriers. The Defence News reported that Boeing has projected a unit cost of $80 million for the F-15EX.
Boeing's offer of the F-15EX fighter to the Indian Air Force raised questions on how the company viewed the prospects of the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet in India. “The Indian Navy and Indian Air Force have distinct operational needs for fighters. While awaiting further definition on the Indian Air Force’s requirements, we have requested a license for the F-15 so that we’re ready to share the full spectrum of potential solutions across our fighter portfolio when appropriate,” a Boeing spokesperson said in response to a query after a US official disclosed the export license application. The US Company added that the license application is a routine practice.
F-16 (Block 70)
Lockheed Martin has said that it is willing to move its lone production line for the F-16 fighter jets to India. It has also expressed interest in exporting these jets out of India. India was considering an offer from the US defense corporation Lockheed Martin to organize manufacturing of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft in the country, local media reported. Besides the F-16s, the US side has also offered other options for warplanes, whose production may be launched in India. The proposal includes aircraft production both for the domestic market and exports.
Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar summoned US Ambassador Richard Verma to express dissatisfaction after Washington announced the US Department of State had approved the sale of eight F-16 combat aircraft and other equipment to Pakistan. Lockheed Martin offered India to produce more advanced version of the jets than those that will be delivered to Pakistan.
Lockheed Martin was not the only company that came up with a business proposal on military equipment. Swedish SAAB offered to set up the production of the Gripen multirole fighter aircraft, whereas the French-based Airbus company suggested launching the Eurofighter jets’ manufacture in India.
India's defense minister expressed 06 May 2016 that India was not interested in acquiring US F-16 fighter aircraft despite aggressive lobbying by Lockheed Martin. In what can be seen as a sharp denial to the US, India has dismissed a proposal made by Lockheed Martin Corp to build F-16 fighter jets in India. India's defense minister Manohar Parrikar said in Parliament, "The experience of flying against F-16 is what we require as we are not going to induct F-16, at least; as of now." The defense minister was replying to a query by a lawmaker who suggested that Indian fighter pilots should get first-hand experience flying F-16s during the ongoing Red Flag joint exercise in Alaska. Parrikar informed the Parliament that the most crucial part of the Red Flag exercise was acclimatizing the Indian Air Force to counter enemy planes like the F-16.
"During the exercise, we are getting very crucial important data about flying against aircraft which are there in the stockpile of our adversaries. So we actually learn how to counter them."
This statement by India's defense minister came at the backdrop of US defense firm Lockheed Martin's desperate attempts to sell its F-16 fighter jets to India, either directly or by teaming up with Indian firms in the manufacturing process.
In early May 2016, representatives of Lockheed Martin met Indian Defense Ministry officials to discuss the possibility of setting up the final assembly line in India. According to Defense Ministry sources, Lockheed Martin sought an opportunity to take part in the 'Make in India' project but no concrete proposal could not be finalized. Earlier this year, the defense minister announced that India would involve the private sector in establishing one or more fighter jet manufacturing units under the Make in India campaign.
Lockheed Martin said 18 February 2017 that talks were being held between the American and Indian governments on its proposal to manufacture F-16 fighter jets in India. The comment by Lockheed's head of F-16 business development, Randall Howard, came at an air show in the Indian city of Bengaluru amid questions whether the company's proposal to produce fighter jets in India will run counter to U.S. President Donald Trump's opposition to American companies moving jobs and manufacturing overseas. Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Saab's Gripen fighter plane from Sweden are regarded as the front-runners in getting a lucrative, multi-billion dollar contract for 200 to 250 jets for the Indian air force that New Delhi is expected to finalize sometime in 2017.
India had insisted that any foreign firm awarded the deal would have to collaborate and manufacture in the country with a local partner to boost its drive to build a domestic air production base. It is part of an initiative by the world's biggest arms importer to link its defense purchases, which could top $200 billion over a decade, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" pitch.
Lockheed Martin offered in 2016 to set up a manufacturing base for F-16s in India provided it is awarded a contract for the fighter jets that India wants to buy - a proposal supported by the former Obama administration. In fact, the company had proposed to make India the sole producer of the single-engine combat aircraft, which was being phased out in the United States, but for which it is seeking markets in other countries.
On 19 June 2017 Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) signed a landmark agreement affirming the companies intent to join hands to produce the F-16 Block 70 in India. This unprecedented F-16 production partnership between the world's largest defense contractor and India's premier industrial house provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter.
F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the U.S., creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the center of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world. The Lockheed Martin-TASL F-16 partnering agreement builds on TASL's proven performance manufacturing airframe components for the C-130J airlifter and the S-92 helicopter.
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