The Indian Air Force (IAF) has submitted its report on the flight evaluation of the six aircraft competing to win the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contest to the Ministry of Defense (MoD). The report, which has not been approved yet, will be subject to validation by the MoD’s Technical Oversight Committee (TOC), before the ministry clears the results of the report for further action.
Senior officers of the IAF said the report details the performance of the respective fighter aircraft on 643 parameters or Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQR), with each aircraft being marked compliant or non-compliant with each parameter. IAF sources also indicated that the report submitted to the MoD does not go so far as to either rank the aircraft in the order of performance in flight trials or indicate the preference of the IAF for any particular aircraft. But it is understood that such results are for the MoD to derive from the report. Originally the IAF had devised 660 test points, which were edited to 643 to remove duplication and overlap.
Each vendor was extensively briefed by the IAF on the performance of their aircraft in the trials, which also allowed them to reconsider the terms of their commercial offer when it was required to be either resubmitted or have its validation extended after the commercial bids, which were valid for 24 months, expired on April 28 this year.
Issues of the possibility of the non-availability of certain systems in aircraft manufactured by third-parties in the absence of separate agreements for their supply are also at rest in the view of the IAF, as each vendor was required to certify the availability of each system required by them.
The IAF, while refusing to state whether any aircraft were clearly compliant or non-compliant referring to their ‘varying compliance’, also said that so far, it had not gone into the issue of comparing the reliability and cost of single-engine aircraft versus twin-engine fighters in the competition. But the IAF is only too aware that a judgment on such a comparison might be required to be generated if both types of aircraft are in the mix cleared by the IAF as compliant. “Both have their advantages,” smiled a senior IAF officer, who said that while single-engine aircraft were cheaper to buy and operate, twin-engine fighters had a ‘100 per cent chance of more survivability’.
Only the commercial bids of the vendors of compliant aircraft will ultimately be opened for consideration and so far, the IAF stands by its line that the lowest bidder, designated L1, will be selected as the MMRCA. The IAF thinks that ‘if a single-engine can do the job’ the decision would be clear. But in the eventuality that both single-engine as well as twin-engine aircraft make the cut, the opening of the commercial bids might see the comparison of their respective costs and reliability.
The IAF has been looking at life-cycle cost to arrive at a better judgment of the merits of each aircraft. It says that these costs are being estimated on the basis of ‘determinable’ values. While other countries have various models for determining life-cycle costs, after 14 meetings with vendors, the IAF has tried to pin-down life-cycle costs on the basis of factors that allow quantification of values. It is understood that the life-cycle cost estimates will not be a complete account of the total cost of operation, maintenance and support of the aircraft.