India is confused of choosing Fighters for MMRCA Tender

Eurofighter Typhoon Days before the government is set to finalise the winner of the multi-billion dollar contract to purchase new gen...

Eurofighter Typhoon

Days before the government is set to finalise the winner of the multi-billion dollar contract to purchase new generation fighters for the Air Force, four heads of governments from the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain have jointly pitched for the Eurofighter in a confidential letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by lending “political support” to the high-profile commercial contract.

The Eurofighter is in a face-off with France’s Rafale for the race to provide 126 fighters to the Air Force, that is grappling with a serious shortage of combat aircraft. A decision on the matter is expected within the next few weeks, with Defence Ministry officials indicating that the winner would be announced by the first week of January.

In a joint “confidential” missive to the Prime Minister sent last week, British PM David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — along with Italian and Spanish Prime Ministers — have said the EADS’ Eurofighter is an “excellent aircraft that stands on its own merit”.

The joint letter has also welcomed India as the “fifth partner country” in jointly developing the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), in the event of Eurofighter being chosen for the contract. The four PMs have also reaffirmed the “security of supply” in the case of Eurofighter Typhoon.

This joint letter, sources said, is “unprecedented” since the four countries have lent strategic support to the commercial deal ahead of the final decision. They are pitted against the French government-backed Rafale.

It may be recalled that US President Barack Obama had also lobbied for the US aircraft with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to India last year and followed it up with a letter highlighting this contract as being important to his administration. However, the bids of two US companies, along with the Russian and Swedish firms, were rejected after technical evaluation in April this year.

Commercial bids of the two remaining contenders — Dassault’s Rafale and EADS’s Eurofighter — were opened last month but a decision could not be taken immediately as the Defence Ministry had to make complex cost calculations based on life cycle costs as well as the value of technology transfer. Sources indicated that while the French fighters came out slightly cheaper, the Eurofighter had a strong offsets and technology transfer proposal.

Till now the multi-billion contract strictly followed the technical procedure — four contenders including the American F16 and F18 were knocked out as they failed the flying trials — but the narrow difference between the fly away costs of both fighters has given Indian decision makers the leeway to make a political decision on the purchase.

While the value of the contract was pegged at US $10 billion when the tender was floated in 2007, this is expected to almost double, given inflation and currency variations over the last few years, besides plans to increase the order by 63 more fighters to meet deficiencies in the fighter fleet.

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