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MRCA Update Part 1: Mirage 2000s Withdrawn As India's MRCA Fighter Competition Changes

It's the biggest fighter aircraft deal since the early 1990s,said Boeing's Mark Kronenberg
, who runs the company's Asia/Pacific business. DID has offered ongoing coverage of India's planned multi-billion dollar jet fighter buy, from its early days as a contest between Dassault, Saab, and MiG for a 126 plane order to the possible entry of American competitors and even EADS' Eurofighter. What began as a lightweight fighter competition to replace India's shrinking MiG-21 interceptor fleet appears to have bifurcated into two categories now, and two expense tiers.

That trend got a sharp boost recently, when Press Trust of India (PTI) reported a surprise pullout by the CEO of Dassault on the eve of the RFP. The Mirage 2000v5 will no longer be fielded for the India deal, despite the fact that India already flies 40 Mirage 2000Ds and its senior officials have touted standardization as a plus factor. So, what's going on?

In a word, lots. The participants are changing, India's view of its own needs is changing, and the size and nature of the order may be changing as well....

Dassault's Move: The Rafale Option

According to India Press Trust, Chacks Edelstenne, CEO of Dassault Aviation, visited the Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh and The Deputy Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal AK Nangalia on February 21, 2006. He informed his audience that "we are on the verge of closing the Mirage fighter assembly line and want to offer India a quantum jump in technology... Though India has not not floated the Request for Proposals (RFP), we have conveyed to India to supply 40 Rafale multi-mission fighters in single source deal."

In a related move, French engine maker Snecma, which is also bidding for DRDO's joint collaboration project on the Tejas LCA's Kaveri engines, has offered to mount Kaveri engines in Rafale fighters.

Media reports note that India's decision-making speed may have had something to do with the switch, as Dassault sources claimed that it would take at least three-four years for a contract to actually be signed with India. Word is that the French government thought that it would be too expensive to keep the Mirage factories running during that time without additional export prospects.

Dassault has reportedly assured India that its extensive Mirage repair and servicing facilities set up by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at Bangalore would require only 'limited modification' to accommodate the Rafale, given its commonalities with the Mirage 2000s.

Dassault may be completely up-front about the reasons behind this choice. It may also have decided that the introduction of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, MiG-35, and changing requirements in the RFP make the Mirage a loser anyway, while boosting the Rafale's chance of securing an export order that would be critical to its long-term future.

Whichever way one leans, the withdrawal of the Mirage 2000 from the competition appears to be official and final.

India's MRCA (Multi-Role Combat Aircraft): Changes

The original intent of India's fighter purchase was to replace hundreds of non-upgraded MiG-21s that India will be forced to retire, with a complementary force of 126 aircraft to go with India's high end Su-30MKIs, and its low-end Tejas LCA lightweight fighter. India is a large country, with coverage needs over a wide area (see map of airbases in "Order of Battle") and on several fronts.

Lightweight multi-role fighters that could make up for declining aircraft numbers with broader and better capabilities would appear to fit that need, and their initial shortlist followed that template.

The Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 were already in service with India in this role, and the JAS-39 offered a fourth generation aircraft whose costs and profile place it firmly in the lightweight fighter category. These aircraft served as a hedge against the potential failure of the Tejas lightweight Combat Aircraft project, and also offered a more immediate solution to plussing up numbers as existing MiG-21s and MiG-23s/MiG-27s were forced into retirement.

Since those early days, sharply improved relations with the USA have introduced a pair of American planes into the competition, and India's view of its own needs is changing. Official sources told Jane's that RFPs are now to be issued to France's Dassault (Mirage 2000-5 and Rafale), BAE/Saab (JAS-39 Gripen), EADS/BAE (Eurofighter Typhoon), The American firms Lockheed (F-16 Block 70) and Boeing (F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet), and Russia's Rosonboronexport (MiG-29OVT with thrust vectoring, aka. MiG-35).

India's requirements are also changing. Jane's Defence Weekly notes that India wishes to 'significantly' augment their strike capability and range to deal with out-of-area contingencies (a trend noted by DID recently). This has delayed the MRCA RFP, originally expected in December 2005. Another contributor to these delays has been the need to refine and clarify the new industrial offset rules (perhaps US lobbying has made a difference).

Of even greater importance is Jane's belief that India will increase its initial requirement from 126 multirole combat aircraft (MRCA) to around 180-190 aircraft, with the additional number being considered for acquisition by the Indian Navy. Reports to other outlets vary, however, and some reports have India standing firm at 126 aircraft.

The naval requirement will be extremely significant because the current roster of competitors contains only two aircraft that qualify for future STOBAR1 carriers like the INS Vikramaditya (ex- Admiral Gorshkov) and the Vikrant Class (aka. Air Defence Ship), which will reportedly weigh in at 37,500 tonnes with a design that is heavily influenced by Italy's Cavour Class.

Those aircraft are the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault's Rafale-M variant. Additionally, the MiG-35 is related to the MiG-29K naval variant slated for operation on INS Vikramaditya. If Russia wishes to invest in the idea, a carrier-capable MiG-35K may also be doable - if the extra weight of the new fuel tanks doesn't create a problem given the hard impacts of carrier landings.

Recall India's need to replace large numbers of aircraft. Given that both the Rafale and Super Hornet carry flyaway costs in the $55-70 million per plane range, and total program costs significantly higher than that, a naval requirement within the competition almost certainly means a split of the order between these high-expense platforms and a cheaper lightweight fighter contender. For instance, there's the possibility of a smaller F/A-18 E/F order and a large MiG-35 order.

India's defense procurement process is definitely a game for the patient, but an RFP that clarifies India's exact requirements and timelines is expected within the next few few months.


Posted by Nikhil Khanna @ 9:52 AM


Getting the US-India Nuclear Deal through Congress
March 18
Washington, DC
Nik Khanna

Many U.S. Congressmen have asked for a change in the U.S.-India nuclear deal signed early this month, the New York Times reported Friday. In the agreement reached last week, Washington reversed longstanding policy by agreeing to sell nuclear technology to India despite India not having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

As Congressional debate began Thursday on bills that would approve the Bush administration's nuclear deal with India, many Senate and House members were telling administration officials that they wanted to rewrite parts of the agreement, the newspaper said. Many believe, that in the new context of geo-political transformation and India's growing nuclear power needs, an exception to the NPT can be made for India.

The leaders of the House and the Senate Foreign Relations committees introduced bills on Thursday to authorize the deal. But the Republican chairman of the committees made it clear that they did not necessarily support the legislation and were introducing it only as a favor to the White House.

The White House, in a March 8 press release strongly defended the Nuclear pact. It denied that the deal would accelerate the nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan, saying Washington "has no intention of aiding" New Delhi's atomic weapons program or of concluding a similar cooperation deal with Islamabad.

"We do not intend to pursue a similar civil nuclear cooperation initiative with Pakistan," said the White House.

It also dismissed any notion of a double-standard that might embolden nuclear ambitions in Tehran or Pyongyang.

"It is not credible to compare the rogue regimes of North Korea and Iran to India. Unlike Iran or North Korea, India has been a peaceful and vibrant democracy with a strong nuclear nonproliferation record," the White House said.

The news release from Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, placed the words "at the request" of the administration in capital letters.

This week, Hyde said he believed members of Congress "may seek conditions for its approval." The New York Times quoted an unidentified official as saying that could mean reopening the deal and making changes.

Under a plan made last July, the United States would help India build nuclear power plants, and India would allow regular international inspections of its civilian reactors. As part of the agreement signed in New Delhi, India has agreed to put all civilian reactors under IAEA inspections and safeguards.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached a formal agreement during Bush's visit to New Delhi this month. But the deal is subject to the approval of Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the nations that control nuclear trade.

Critics said that the U.S.-India nuclear deal violates American law and the NSG practice because India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Concerns over proliferation and the continued secrecy of India's nuclear weapons program leave many members of the U.S. Congress wary, the New York Times said.

Posted by Nikhil Khanna @ 4:53 PM


Bush Administration Encouraged About India Civil Nuclear Deal
U.S. Congress considering legislation to allow deal to proceed
By David Shelby

March 20, 2006

Washington - The Bush administration is encouraged by the initial response it has received from members of Congress on the proposed U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns says.

The pact was signed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during Bush's visit to India in early March.

Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives introduced legislation March 16 that would exempt India from certain restrictions on the export of U.S. nuclear technology. Both houses must pass this legislation, and the final bill must be signed by the president, before the deal can proceed.

"This is going to be a somewhat lengthy process. It's likely to take several months because that's the way the American process works," Burns told reporters at a briefing in Washington March 16. But he added, "We are encouraged by the number of members of the Senate and the House who have spoken out publicly in favor of this agreement."

Burns said the administration respects Congress' right to demand comprehensive briefings on the agreement and said all administration officials who have dealt with the issue are prepared to testify "so that we can spell out in some detail exactly what has been agreed to and what the ramifications of this might be for the nonproliferation regime and for our relations with other countries."

The under secretary said that most members of Congress have reserved judgment on the agreement given that it marks a significant departure from three decades of conventional thinking about the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. But in discussions with members of Congress over the past two weeks, he said, he has heard support for the administration's efforts to tackle a difficult issue: "how to have a functioning and effective nonproliferation system, and include in that this very large country that has a nuclear power industry and wants to expand the nuclear power industry."

Burns maintained that the agreement actually will strengthen the nonproliferation regime because India has committed to put all current and future civilian nuclear facilities under permanent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. He said India also has agreed to strengthen its export controls on sensitive technologies.

India has a history of respecting nonproliferation norms, Burns added.

"[A] lot of countries around the world have a lot of experience with India in the nuclear realm, and of course a lot of countries have taken a close look at India's record on nonproliferation," he said. "And the consensus that I hear talking to most of the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group is that we all agree on one thing: India, while it's been outside the NPT [nuclear nonproliferation treaty], has conformed to a lot of the practices of the countries inside the NPT."

Burns dismissed the idea that India would use the deal to expand its nuclear arsenal, arguing that the majority of Indian investment would be in the civilian nuclear power industry.

If Congress adopts legislation allowing the deal to move forward, the administration will have to seek the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for India to engage in trade of nuclear-related materials with NSG members. The NSG is a group of 45 nuclear supplier countries that seeks to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing guidelines for trade in nuclear materials.

Burns noted that several members of the NSG already have expressed support for the deal. He added that India is the only country that merits exceptional treatment from the NSG because of its history of respect for nonproliferation norms.

Posted by Nikhil Khanna @ 4:05 PM


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