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Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft
Multi-Role Fighter (MMRCA/MCRA)

India's 126 Medium Fighter Aircraft Tender (MMRCA) was one of the strangest procurement campaigns in military aviation history. Everything semmed built according to the canons of an Indian film. Intrigues, collusion, deceit and even natural fights between different groups of lobbyists representing the interests of certain manufacturers. What looked good on paper and in beautiful virtual presentations actually grew into an all-Indian scandal. In 2015, the first corruption case was initiated, and only the direct intervention of the then French President Hollande allowed the scandal to be hushed up. By 2020 the criminal proceedings had been reopened, and the number of purchased Rafals has been reduced from 126 to 36.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar informed the Upper House on 30 July 2015 that the Centre had withdrawn the multi-billion dollar tender for the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircrafts (MMRCA), for which Rafale was shortlisted in 2012. "The Request for Proposal (RFP) issued earlier for the procurement of 126 MMRCA had been withdrawn. In the multi-vendor procurement case, the Rafale aircraft met all the performance characteristics stipulated in the RFP during the evaluation conducted by the Indian Air Force," Parrikar said in a written reply to Rajya Sabha. The move came months after the Defense Minister indicated that the over $20 billion MMRCA tender had been scrapped after the government decided to purchase 36 Rafales under a government-to-government contract. The talks for the 36 Rafales had already commenced, the Minister said.

The Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MMRCA) / Multi-Role Fighter purchase was to replace 200 of India's ageing Russian built MiG-21s, which date back to the 1960s. Russian aircraft make up most of India's fleet, which had no US-built hardware in it. The Mirage-2000-5 and the SU-30K were the two aircraft that were considered to be feasible alternatives to replace obsolescent aircraft that the Air Force planned to phase out. While both aircraft were still under development, the Mirage-2000-5 was designed ab initio as a multi-role aircraft with identified avionics systems and weaponry. The SU-30K on the other hand was designed only for an air defence role. In order to improve the declining combat capability of the Air Force owing to fleet obsolescence, the Ministry contracted in November 1996 for supply of 40 SU-30 aircraft and associated equipment with its manufacturer at a total cost of US $1462 million.

The United States imposed military sanctions on Delhi following India's May 1998 nuclear tests. But the sanctions were phased out starting in late 2001, following September 11th, and bilateral ties have since flourished.

As of 2000 the French were negotiating the sale of 10 Mirage 2000, which the IAF needed to make up for attrition. The deal had been stalled since 1990 over price. The Mirage 2000 with IAF in 1985 technology, while the version under discussion was 1996 technology, but is not the latest Mirage 2000-5. In November 2002 Hindustan Aeronautics Limited along with the Indian Air Force participated in joint technical discussions with M/s Dassault Aviation, M/s Thales and M/s Snecma, France to assess the feasibility of production and transfer of technology for manufacture of Mirage 2000-5 MK II aircraft. The discussions are at a preliminary stage.

As of March 2002 the IAF reportedly had plans to acquire as many as 126 Mirage 2000-5s to equip seven squadrons. The IAF reportedly wanted 36 Mirage 2000-5s to be delivered in completed form, with the remainder to be assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) at Bangalore.

India's program to acquire 126 new multirole fighters may be worth more than $9 billion within the next two years. According to Moscow Defense Brief the number of the planes may increase up to 180-190 and the price of the contract will increase up to eight billion dollars.

What began as a lightweight fighter competition to replace India's shrinking MiG-21 interceptor fleet bifurcated into two categories and two expense tiers. In January 2005 it was reported that the program appeared to have shifted its preference toward a twin-engined aircraft. This would rule against platforms such as Dassault's Mirage 2000H, Lockheed Martin's F-16 and the Saab/BAE Systems Gripen, and put into play Dassault's Rafale, RSKMiG's MiG-29 and the Eurofighter Typhoon. India will not consider a further derivative of Sukhoi's Su-30.

In February 2005 Indian Air chief Air Marshal SP Tyagi said the air force would acquire 126 fighter aircraft from different countries. The first jet worth Rs 2.5 billion would arrive in India by 2007. Air Marshal SP Tyagi stated that the Indian government was negotiating acquisition of aircraft with the US, France and Russia. A Request for Information (RFI) had been sent to four firms - Lockheed Martin (F-16), MiG RAC of Russia (MiG 29 M2), Dassault Aviation of France (Mirage 2000-5) and Gripen of Sweden. "F-16 is one of the aircrafts we are looking at along with three other aircrafts of similar capabilities. We are not only considering their multi-role combat capabilities but also air superiority," Tyagi said on the sidelines of an international aerospace seminar being held as part of the Aero India event. The Indian air force got the chance in October 2004 to go head-to-head with Singapore [RSAF] F-16s during a joint exercise at Gwalior.

The Bush administration said 25 March 2005 it was notifying Congress of plans to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. President Bush telephoned Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh to tell him of the move, drawing what an Indian government spokesman said was an expression of great disappointment. In his conversation with Indian Prime Minister Singh, President Bush said the United States will respond positively to India's request for bids for new planes, though he noted this does not constitute a sale.

There had been some speculation that the Bush administration may be ready to sell high-end F-16 planes to India. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. told NDTV's Rajdeep Sardesai in a 16 March 2005 interview: "We will talk about defense requirements, and I look very much forward to doing that. We want very much for there to be a military balance in the region that preserves peace. We take note of the warming relations between India and Pakistan, very good for South Asia, very good for the entire region, very good for the world. But we are developing a very good defense relationship with India. We've had exercises. We were very much part of an effort with the tsunami, where I understand that India was able to deploy ships within 48 hours. That's extraordinary. So we have a lot of work to do together, and I want this defense relationship to work."

On 16 March 2005 Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh noted: "The Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership, or NSSP, Phase II should be concluded fairly soon. ... It is known, India and the United States have an ongoing dialogue on defense, on various aspects of it, on defense supplies, on defense equipment, and every issue was brought up, including F-16, and as the Secretary has said, no announcement is going to be made. We discussed every aspect of our defense relationship with the Secretary of State, and if anything else happens between now and lunch, I'll let you know. ... we did express certain concerns about certain matters on the defense issue as to how it might pave some complications I think there are no serious differences of opinion. There are one or two items on which we don't agree. Our relations will now reach a maturity but we can discuss these things freely and frankly and place our views firmly on record, and our views with regard to F-16 (inaudible)."

As of July 2005, Boeing had also offered its F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet" for the Indian Air Force's consideration. Boeing said that it was in talks with the IAF and the Navy and was also offering the co-production of the Super Hornet in India, subject to US government approval. In August 2005, Russia offered its MiG-35 for the IAF's consideration as well.

In March 2006 came a surprise pullout by France's Dassault on the eve of the Request For Proposals (RFP). As a result, the Mirage 2000 v5 is no longer in the fray, despite the fact that India already flies 40 Mirage 2000Ds and its senior officials had touted standardisation as a plus factor.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal F.H. Major said in July 2007 that the air force wanted to reduce the inventory in its combat jet arsenal to three aircraft systems only, and over the next few years, it would use the home-made Tejas as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the new MRCAs as the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) and the 35-ton SU30-MKIs as the Heavy Combat Aircraft (HCA).

The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) RFP capped a process that began in 2001, when the IAF sent out its request for information (RFI) for 126 jets. After delays lasting almost 2 years beyond the planned December 2005 issue date, India's Ministry of Defence finally announced a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) on 28 August 2007. Under the terms of purchase, the first 18 aircraft will come in a 'fly away' condition, while the remaining 108 will be manufactured under Transfer of Technology. Some reports add an option for an additional 64 aircraft on the same terms, bringing the total to 190 aircraft. The selection process was likely to take at least 2 1/2 years, with source selection at the end of 2009, followed by lengthy price negotiations, and probably including delays along the way.

Indian Air Force's (IAF) 126 multi-role combat aircraft were planned to be procured around 2012. Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said October 30, 2007 that "All going well I am looking at the first induction of MMRCA by 2012-13. The delivery begins 48 months after the contract is signed. Evaluation of the aircraft will take at least two-three years." As of 2007 the Indian Air Force (IAF) had around 30-32 squadrons worth of serviceable aircraft. This was well below the target of 39 1/2. About 21 squadrons flew MiG-21s of one vintage or another, and overall squadron strength was projected to plunge to 27 during the 2012-2017 period.

By the time the evaluation process was complete, the size of the order is likely to rise to around 200 jets, as the IAF, which was down to 32 squadrons from a high of 39 1/2, expected to see a further depletion of its fleet due to the retirement of some its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft.

In January 2009 the Swedish manufacturer of Gripen, SAAB International, proposed to India transfer of technology to become 'an independent manufacturer' of its own fighter jets. Looking forward to the trials for the medium multi-role combat aircraft, SAAB favored 'extensive transfer of technology' well in excess of 60 percent requirement to boost India's indigenous capabilities in this regard.

India's long-running Multi-Role Fighter competition narrowed on 27 April 2011 as the field was narrowed from six to two contestants. The American bids for Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet were rejected, as was the Swedish Gripen and Russian MiG-35. Dassault Rafale fighter of France and the joint Eurofighter Typhoon project were still in the running. The US countered with an offer to sell the F-35 to the Indians, including possibly the short-takeoff version to operate off Indian aircraft carriers. If successful, it would perhaps be the death blow to European fighter sales to Asia.

Once Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon were shortlisted, the Ministry of Defence then took over the price negotiations, with Eurofighter submitting what sources said was a bid weighing kilos, while the French company put in a slim proposal. As is the procedure, both bids came with sealed envelopes carrying the price, and Dassault finally got the contract from the Ministry of Defence, as the lowest bidder.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 14:50:40 ZULU