The French had to regret the “victory” in India’s century contract. Difficulties and disagreements so much that almost turned Rafale fighter into a criminal.
The French had to regret the “victory”.
The Indian competition, called MMRCA, has continued to be called a “century contract”, although the original number consisted of only 126 4 ++ Generation multi-purpose fighters.
If the world market for passenger airplanes was calculated by thousands, then with the air forces, the number would be only a few dozen. The current unique product is the US F-35, but it is a completely different story: From the beginning there were many US allies participating in this program, and the F-35 is currently the only fifth generation fighter in mass production worldwide. So there is no need to say much.
India has never been a major US ally, relying primarily on military and technical assistance from Russia and France, although Americans have become increasingly large in the Indian arms market. Please note that the backbone of the Indian Air Force is 4 ++ generation Su-30MKI fighters from Russia. These aircrafts were very modern in the mid or even late 1990s. However, India understands that it is time to add some more modern aircrafts.
In the first round of the Indian competition called Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), there were 6 aircraft participating: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, MiG-35 and Saab JAS 39 Gripen. Meanwhile, Russian MiG-35 fighters were eliminated at the beginning of the race. Only 2 were left, Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon (both from Europe). And the Indians decided to choose Rafale.
But soon, the French had to regret this “victory”. Difficulties and disagreements so much that almost turned Rafale fighter into a criminal type. In the end, the number of the aforementioned machines was reduced to just 36.
On the other hand, it’s hard to say the Dassault Rafale a commercially successful product. As by 2019, only more than 170 of these fighters have been produced. Even the production of a few dozen units is a big problem for the French.
Focusing on internal resources?
The radical change in the MMRCA program occurred in 2018, when the Indian Air Force opened a new bidding package to purchase 114 multi-purpose fighters. This nearly $20 billion project, in essence, is the relaunch of the failed MMRCA program: sometimes it is unofficially called the MMRCA 2.0.
Earlier, the Indian Air Force had sent 72-page preliminary Requests for Information (RFI) to foreign suppliers. Potential candidates include: new variants of the F-16, Boeing F/A-18E/F, Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen E, as well as Russian MiG-35 and Su-35.
The “black spot” appeared, shortly before the first conclusions were drawn. On May 18, 2020, Defense Security Monitor announced that India intends to stop buying 114 fighters to switch to HAL Tejas locally made fighters. This project is a separate program. It was a light fighter, neither the 4th generation nor the 3rd generation. It is capable of carrying 4 tons of weapons similar to the early MiG-29s, and also has only 8 weapon hard points.
Perhaps, this project is important for the development of the Indian aviation industry. However, this aircraft first took off in 2001, and was only produced in modest numbers of several dozen aircraft, including 16 prototypes. At the idea level, something happened that Asian military projects often encountered: The machine was obsolete long before it went into mass production.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Indians have decided not to bet on it. Recently, the Indian Air Force commander, Air Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, announced that MMRCA 2.0 is still being implemented.
Which products could Russia offer?
The chances of success with the Su-35, which didn’t even make it to the MMRCA project last time, were few. According to the commander of the Indian Air Force, the machine did not fit into this “line” of aircraft. And besides, compared to Rafale, the Su-35 has not been equipped with active phase array radar so far, and it is still loyal to the N035 Irbis passive phase array radar.
The new Russian MiG-35 fighter has more opportunities. This machine is very similar in concept to Dassault Rafale, and would be ideal if equipped with Zhuk-A active phase array radar. Among its other outstanding features are integrated optical-location station, the small radar cross section and the low operating cost.
All that doesn’t mean that the MiG-35 is “better” than the Su-35S. Simply in this case, it looks like it has a better chance of success. Indirectly, the Indian side showed an interest in new products through events in 2019. Please note that last year Indian pilots flew twice on the MiG-35 fighter jet during the MAKS 2019 Air Show, held in Zhukovksy city, outside Moscow, Russia.
Although the MiG-35 has a slight advantage over the Su-35, the reality compared to the new Western machines, in this case, the evaluation seems a bit hasty.
Let’s start with the fact that both Rafale, and Eurofighter Typhoon (not to mention American machines) have been mass produced in the tens and even hundreds of units. They have been operated by many countries around the world for many years.
In the case of MiG-35, things are the opposite. At the ARMY-2018 Forum, MiG Company signed a contract with the Ministry of Defense of Russia to supply only 6 MiG-35s to 2023.
Long before that, the Russian Defense Ministry had announced that it would prioritize Su fighters. This is entirely reasonable, from the viewpoint of the Russian Aerospace Forces. MiG also received no attention from other countries.
All of these factors, most likely, are causing Indians, who want to have a more well-proven machine, feel concerned. On the other hand, this situation doesn’t mean the end of MiG’s commercial potential.
In another century contract, well worth tens of billions of dollars. India has withdrawn from the Su-57 stealth aircraft project, and now it is impossible to decide how to get the fifth generation fighter. To produce by itself, it will cost tens of billions of dollars and years of hard work.
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