Wednesday, June 10, 2015

SAAB pushes Gripen for IAF Light Aircraft Platform

SAAB pushes Gripen for IAF Light Aircraft Platform

Shortage of fighter aircraft has been one of the long standing problems for IAF. The active fighter squadron have hit a record low, IAF is now just operating 34 squadrons against the sanctioned 44 squadrons which is considered the minimum operational strength. More and more squadrons will be retiring in the coming years, IAF plans to retire the aging MiG-21 and MiG-21 Bisons by 2017. IAF for long has been looking out for capable platforms to replace the aging MiG-21’s.

India came up with the ambitious LCA project under which India would operate home grown light attack fighter jet. To fill in the gap between the light fighters and the multi-role heavier air superiority jets, India drew up the MMRCA deal. These deals failed to bring any respite to IAF, the LCA project is lagging behind years but may soon be operated under IAF banner, on the other hand the MMRCA deal never finalized and is believed to be dead now.

   But the IAF did receive a good news with the Modi led NDA government going for a G-G deal with France to supply 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets off the shelve to India. This has come as a respite to the IAF which has been raising alarms owing to the dipping jet numbers.

The threat levels reached new heights with various think tanks raising concerns and reporting that the IAF had lost its superiority to the PAF which now operates some of the most advanced jets.  The new NDA government has been stressing on improving the nation’s security through fastened procurement and modernizing the forces.

     The replacement program for the MiG-21’s is running behind years, the IAF is now looking at other options. India recently signed an agreement with the American’s to co-develop hot engines based on the GE engines which are powering the Tejas. This will be an major boost to the program. With the Defence industry being opened up under the FDI scheme various leading foreign companies has come forward to offer India they’re priced products. The newest in the line is the Sweden based Saab which is approaching India with their Gripen NG to replace the MiG’s. 

    The Saab had fielded the same Gripen for the MMRCA tender. After a detailed technical and operational review India had selected Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon, among which the Rafale won the tender. The visiting Swedish Defence minister Peter Hultqvist will be offering India with an deal to procure these advanced jets. DRDO has sought the help of Saab in developing Tejas MK-II, a deal for co-development of a new fighter platform may also be option the government will opt for.   

     A single Gripen in fly away condition will be around $70 million as against the more costlier Dassault Rafale which costs somewhere around $108 million. But the Gripen had failed early in the tests IAF had conducted during the MMRCA deal, but faced with a depleting force IAF may still the Gripen as stop-gap measure until the more advanced Tejas MK-II will be rolled out by HAL.  

      IAF currently operates jets based mainly on Russian technologies, the Su-30 is the foremost aircraft of the IAF. IAF also operates MiG 29, MiG 27 and MiG 21 which will soon be retired. India also operates the advanced Dassault Mirage-2000 and the Britain manufactures Jaguar. India is now stressing on multi-role aircraft rather than operating various single mission oriented aircraft, this will help IAF save the operational costs. 

    The MMRCA deal set the tone for India’s western platform procurement as India set aside the Russian fielded MiG-35 in the very first rounds of testing. The operational costs run up to cores and with India facing a strong cut down in its defence expenditure it is extremely demanding of the IAF to operate single mission oriented aircraft. The Mirage 2000TI is one of the first multi-role aircraft to be operated by the IAF. The Mirage service availability is well above 80%.  With the LCA project running years behind schedule an replacement deal for the IAF is the need of the hour. 

   IAF  has constant issues with the operational capabilities of the aircraft but HAL has promised of refine the product. HAL has already started the designing of the Tejas MK-II which will be developed around the GE F-414 engine. The aircraft will be more capable and the powerful engine will be clubbed with advanced Avionics and stealth capability which will effectively classify the jet as a 4.5 generation jet. 

    The Tejas MK-I plans has also been delayed for almost a decade. But developing a fighter jet is something that can’t be mastered in a year or two. The F-22 Raptor project of the USAG evolved after almost 3 decades of dedicated R&D phases. Even though being developed in India, Tejas has been possible only because of foreign nation products. The main component of the project was acquiring a suitable engine which could be powerful at the same time highly efficient.

      The program had stalled with the DRDO developed Kaveri engines failing to prove their capability. DRDO and HAL then started looking out to foreign nations which were open to provide India with a engine that could perform well in the Indian conditions. Finally India selected GE developed F-404 for powering the jets. Several key avionics and the weapons package were procured from other nations. The procurement process ran into troubled waters with several delays. 

India a closes ally of Russia, who forces India to buy anything they designed, it's started since from the independence, Russia is not good for developing Multi role fighters,  they use huge models of Aircrafts for Missions, for Air combat they use Flankers, Fulcrums and Foxbat's , for Maritime attack they use Fencer, Blinder, for Ground Strike they use Badger and Frogfoot, for long range bombing they use the newest Fullbacks. But interesting IAF also went for the same for Air combat Fulcrum and Flankers, ground strike Badger, for deep strike Jaguar, something like other missions too. 

    IAF learned a lesson of Fighting with Pakistan need not only a good Air superiority fighter also need some good ground attack platform can also switches it's mission into Air combat roles too. in Kargil the IAF fighters all sitting in ducks due to no intrudes from PAF. but large number of Paki troops intruded, forced the IAF to carryout Ground strike role,  the MiG 27 and 23 is just a bomber they can't carry guided munitions, just amount unguided munitions, which makes no sense but billing the IAF in huge amount. 

But Multi role platform Mirage 2000 and Deep Striker Jaguar comes to the rescue and told the IAF to re think their strategy,

   Most of the western air forces operates one or two kind of Fighters for Better use, mostly a Multi role plus a Ground attack or Light Aircraft for recon mission. Just like the French using thier Mirages and Rafale for missions, both are good platforms and good multi roles.

   If Airforce have multiple variants they need multiple contracts, equipments, service engineers, Trainings, Spare parts, Missiles, ground supports, data links more and more, which makes huge money and problems in the inventory. also makes Half of the fleet siting in the Hangers and waiting for spares and maintenance  experts, 

    That's why IAF should look for reduced variants of  fighters, They can go for Su 30 as Air superiority, Rafale and Mirage for Multirole and Tejas series for Light combat missions, accelerate Future projects like AMCA and FGFA, Which makes IAF strict with five to six platforms with complete support within India, 

  The Su 30, FGFA, AMCA and Tejas is developed in India, we can make huge stockpiles of spare parts and Missiles for those Aircrafts, since all those made in India we have no problem in Technical expertise, where HAL easily can handle the issues very easily since HAL is the manufacturer. But again inducting fighters like F 18, F 35, Gripen, Rafale, MiG 35, Su 35, makes huge problems and service availability, also costs the IAF too much. So IAF sticks with Su 30, Rafale and Tejas variants, no need of More foreign aircraft.

Editor Karthik Kakoor 

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