Blog: How to win the MMRCA

Let's speculate about the Indian Air Force USD 10 billion tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and draw some conclusions, for fun.

L et’s speculate about the Indian Air Force (IAF) USD 10 billion tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and draw some conclusions, for fun.

So, our choices are:

1. Eurofighter Typhoon
Twin-engine
Alleged to be expensive
Has a four-nation production system that’s considered an asset by the company and complicated by polite critics, with each part built in a different country
Comes with a cool helmet.

2. Rafale
Twin-engine
Alleged to be an expensive aircraft
Alleged to be an expensive jobs program
Alleged to be an expensive prestige program
Operated only by France
Once reported to be out of MMRCA (clearly not)
Lost out to the F-16 in Morocco
Almost seemed like it won in Brazil, now struggling in a repeat
Pissed off the UAE and made sheesh kebab of its chances there when the newspaper owned by the manufacturer Dassault reported Israeli security assistance being given to the UAE.

3. MiG-35
Twin-engine
Russian – India’s largest defense supplier,
Claimed to be advancement on the MiG-29
People agree it looks like a plane
Not operated by the Russian Air Force, Navy or Army yet – Oh, did we mention? One of the requirements for the selected aircraft is for it to be in service in the armed forces of the country of origin. More grist for tetchy argument, even if only academic.

4. F/A-18 Super Hornet
Twin-engine
US-built
Alleged to be under-powered
20 per cent more power offered, Tim “The Toolman” Taylor-style, to counter allegation
Made by Boeing, which has started to hog Indian defense contracts
Back in the race in Brazil.

5. F-16IN
Single-engine – probably the most powerful engine of the MMRCA-6
US-built
Older version operated by Pakistan, more still being supplied to Pakistan
Claimed to be fed by technology developed for the F-22 and F-35.

6. Gripen IN
Single-engine
Only MMRCA-6 fighter built by a non permanent-member of the UN Security Council, hence said to be independent of political hangups
Appears to be able to operate off public roads (So can we: Boeing)
Said to have really quick turn-around time
Well-liked by the Brazilian Air Force.

The decision-makers are:

1. Indian Air Force
Really keen on getting its new fighters soon
Said to have done an excellent and unprecedented job comparing six different aircraft
Getting impatient now
Already buying Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft, been committed to the 5th Gen Russian PAK FA, so would like to get non-Russian aircraft this time, please
Typically sneers, rolls eyes at the mention of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project.

2. Ministry of Defense
Better known as MoD
Has the ball right now
Expects to get brickbats no matter what it decides
Struggling to figure out offset issues
Should be sweating a bit with the expiry of the commercial bids next month (again)
Under pressure from IAF to figure out a shortlist
Staffed by bureaucrats who usually get uncomfortable being in the same room as journalists
Headed by a minister who is said to be a rare politician with integrity and a clean record who insists on due process but is criticized by some to be holding up defense acquisitions with his insistence, also claims MMRCA will not be a political decision.

3. Cabinet Committee on Security
Better known as CCS
Includes the Prime Minister and other top ministers
Will take the final call on which aircraft to buy
Can theoretically authorize purchase of aircraft ignoring IAF, MoD recommendations, on strategic grounds.

We’re going to make some safe assumptions before we start.

That the most expensive aircraft of the lot will be a twin-engine aircraft.
That the single-engine aircraft will be cheaper than twin-engine aircraft.

To be selected the MMRCA, the aircraft would have to be the cheapest of the shortlisted aircraft. And to be shortlisted, the aircraft would have to be adjudged technically compliant by the IAF.

The shortlist is a subset of the set of six aircraft listed above. The price quotes of only the shortlisted aircraft will be opened and the winner will be the cheapest one (at least that’s the plan).

Going by this reasoning, for the most expensive aircraft to be selected, it would have to be the only aircraft that is found technically compliant by the IAF.

Although some people have sniggered that no aircraft is actually fully compliant with the IAF’s 643 test points, in which case it might become simply about only selecting the most compliant aircraft. But that will throw up a nice, new set of problems.

So, for example, if the Eurofighter Typhoon’s (or the Rafale’s, or any other’s…) quote is the priciest of the six, it would have to be the only aircraft that is shortlisted as technically compliant, to win the contest.

If you’re a single-engine aircraft and you’re found technically compliant, the only other aircraft you need to worry about is the other single-engine, if it gets short-listed. (Or the Russian. Heh. More seriously, maybe the Super Hornet?)

Now there are three ways of winning the contest.

Be the only aircraft to be found technically compliant, irrespective of the the fact that you’re the most expensive of the lot, because, then yours is the only commercial bid they open.

Be the cheapest in an all twin-engine shortlist.

Be the only single-engine aircraft in the technically complaint shortlist. Yours will probably be the lowest quote, unless they’re factoring in life-cycle cost into the commercial bid as well (Here’s a question for you. Should life cycle cost be evaluated as part of the technical bid or the commercial bid? And, either way, how would you verify it? Especially, with newer aircraft?), in which case there could be some interesting reckoning and counter-reckoning.

A twin-engine should have a higher life-cycle cost because, on a very basic level, it’s two engines that are running, being serviced and replaced. But a single-engine, if it loses that engine in flight, may well result in the loss of the aircraft itself and a replacement might need to be be purchased [People’s Evidence #3291: The purchase of two Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in addition to the 40 for the IAF, after two crashed]. This may not be the case with a non-Russian twin-engine aircraft [And by the way, has anyone ever figured out the life cycle costs of the respective Russian aircraft in the IAF inventory?] So, which of the two would be costlier for the air force?

The wildcard would be the one that wins on strategic grounds, overriding the cost and technical performance evaluation results.

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Follow Saurabh Joshi on Twitter @ http://www.twitter.com/saurabhjoshi Saurabh is a journalist based in New Delhi, India who has worked in print, television as well as internet news media. Besides defense and strategy, his past assignments have included reporting from Kashmir, coverage of terror strikes as well as election coverage from all over India. He has a Bachelors degree in Journalism (Honors) as well as a law degree (LLB), both from the University of Delhi.
3 comments
Gmat1984
Gmat1984

Awesome posting. Really nice writing. As always ur posts are very helpful.

Greg Waldron
Greg Waldron

Great post, really enjoy reading your stuff, Saurabh.

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