Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gripen IN combat jet in race for IAF order

The race for an Indian Air Force (IAF) order for 126 combat jets in a deal worth $10 billion just got more interesting with Swedish plane maker SAAB offering an advanced version of a state-of-the-art radar with its Gripen fighter and also the wherewithal to enable its programming here.

"What we are offering is a second generation AESA (advanced extended search array radar) that incorporates a swishplate that enables it to rotate and considerably enhances its capabilities over the existing radar," Gripen International's India director Eddy de la Motte told reporters Wednesday.
"The radar will come with its software source code."

The software source code has been a sticky point, with at least two of the six manufacturers in the race for the IAF order, which could go up to 200 planes, expressing reservations on transferring this to India.
Without the code, the IAF would be dependent on the manufacturer who is selected for the order for programming the radar, thus impinging on the country's national security, a defence analyst pointed out.

Listing the other advantages of the single-engined Gripen, whose IN version is currently on offer to be followed by the NG (next generation) version, de la Motte pointed to its low lifecycle costs, quick turnaround time, quick engine replacement time, advanced avionics and the fact that the IAF could install a weapons suite of is choice on the aircraft.

"In terms of costs, including the life cycle cost, the Gripen is 50 percent cheaper that the other single-engined aircraft (in the fray) and 25 percent cheaper that the double-engined aircraft (in contention)," the SAAB official pointed out.

While the IAF has already begun its flight evaluation trials of the six jets in the running, it is yet to resolve the contentious issue of whether it wants a single-engined or a twin-engined aircraft.

When the IAF first floated its Request For Information (RFI), it was looking for a replacement for its aging Soviet-era Mig-21, a single engined fighter.
Of the six aircraft now in contention, only two - the Gripen and the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper - are single engined. The other four - the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the French Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon built by a European conglomerate and the Russian Mig-35 - are twin-engined.

The SAAB official pointed out that the Gripen was the only aircraft that provided the IAF the opportunity to select the weapons of its choice.

"With the other manufacturers, the IAF will have to take the weapons the aircraft comes with. With the Gripen, the IAF can chose from the best that is available in the international market," de la Motte maintained.

The flight trials, being conducted in humid conditions in Bangalore, desert conditions in Jaisalmer and high-altitude conditions in Leh, will conclude in March 2010. Thereafter, the field will be narrowed down to two or three aircraft, after which the price negotiations will begin, with the first of the planes arriving in 2012-13.

Eighteen of the aircraft will be purchased in flyaway condition and the remaining will be manufactured by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under a transfer of technology agreement.


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