With the almost year-long trials for the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender of the Indian Air Force (IAF) expected to end by May, StratPost caught up with Dr. Matthias Schmidlin, the head of the Eurofighter Typhoon campaign in India, who said it was unlikely the trials would end with a single aircraft having a clear lead while recognizing the final result of the MMRCA contest would be a political decision.“It is my belief that there will be definitely more than one vendor when there is the opening of the commercial envelope. I believe we are in a good position and so I anticipate that we will be going up to the end of this campaign,” he says, adding, “The final decision at the end of the day will be political. We all know that. This is, at the moment, the largest defense contract around the globe. And it will be the largest fighter, combat campaign for the next decade to come. So clearly, this is very strategic for all the vendors in the campaign.”
Acknowledging the contestants would have to satisfy the technical and commercial evaluations before getting to a point where they can be decided upon politically, saying, “Every vendor needs to go through the compliant bid up to that point.”
Schmidlin also thinks the Eurofighter has the advantage of the political inheritance it carries from Europe. “Once we are at this last and final stage: the political element, I’m convinced that the German government is fully committed behind this campaign,” he says.
He goes on to expand the list, saying, “Its also about Italy, Great Britain and Spain.” And notwithstanding the competition offered by the French Dassault’s Rafale in the MMRCA contest, Schmidlin also refers to the French ownership share of weapons supplier MBDA and EADS to submit, “At the end of the day we are certainly a French company to a certain extent as well. So one would get not just four, but five governments supporting this campaign.”He asserts the advantages this political lineage provides in terms of the relative absence of conditions for sale of the aircraft that may be imposed on India. “It’s not enough to have the best kit in town if you have limitations to use it or if you have limitations for upgrading it. We are less bound than any or at least some of the contenders on end use monitoring and so forth, so what we’re offering is not only support for the self-reliance of the Indian aerospace and defense industry but also on the respective usage of the weapon kit at the end of the day,” says Schmidlin.
He also points out that the Eurofighter Typhoon has done well in various exercises with other contenders in the MMRCA contest, some of whom it has replaced in other air forces, saying, “It’s not a surprise because it was designed to replace a significant number of variants; some of them are in this campaign (MMRCA), (some) in the four nations, and some of the export customers are looking to do the same.”
Elaborating, Schimdlin says, “It replaces a lot of aircraft from different countries. F-18, Mirage, Tornado, MiG-29… Germany had MiG-29s. One Eurofighter is replacing all these Russian, American, French, British aircraft – it’s designed to replace a multitude of different aircraft from different manufacturers in different countries.” He also says there is an easy learning curve for moving to the Eurofighter Typhoon from other aircraft that are replaced. “There has been no big issue at all in moving from a competing aircraft even in this campaign (MMRCA) to the Typhoon in some nations or where we have exported the aircraft. Its really an aircraft that’s very easy to engage,” he says.
And while the Eurofighter Typhoon still has a final phase of trials in which to show this off to the IAF in trials next month in Europe, Schmidlin is not worried on that count. “The Eurofighter Typhoon is an aircraft which is highly agile, multi-role and swing-role. It’s designed to deliver high performance operation and is tailor-made to the Indian requirements, really, to operate in these conditions,” he says, adding, “It has been deployed to much tougher conditions. We won in Saudi Arabia, where there were very stringent trials conducted in hot and sandy conditions. In terms also of cold and hard conditions, we have sold the aircraft to Austria. Very difficult terrain out there with very narrow valleys, very short runways, which require massive performance at high altitudes.”
Offering transfer of technology, licensed manufacture and offsets, Schmidlin points out, “The Eurofighter is the youngest aircraft in this race, with loads of potential for future upgrades and enhancements and we’ve offered India to be part of this undertaking.”
The cost of such an undertaking, the MMRCA, could remain unclear for the near future. Curiously, while both the technical and commercial proposals were delivered by April 28, 2008, with the former being opened at 1500 hours that day, the commercial proposals were ‘locked away and sealed’ to be valid for ‘up to 24 months’, Schmidlin confirms.
And although it is clear that the evaluation is unlikely to be at a stage where the commercial bids are in a position to be opened by the expiry deadline on April 28 this year, Schmidlin finds himself at somewhat of a loss about their status after that date. “According to the DPP (Defense Procurement Procedure), there is a requirement for having valid commercial proposal, and so far – I have to be honest – I don’t know, we have not been officially approached in this regard.”
According to industry sources this eventuality has not been entirely unforeseen and there is a likelihood the vendors will be required to either resubmit their commercial bids or extend their validity. Trade speculation regards this as an opportunity for vendors to adjust their commercial proposals on the basis of their perception of performance in the user trials.