Wednesday, March 10, 2010

$11 bn Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft in the balance

The high-voltage $11 billion contest to sell India 126 Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MMRCA) is reaching the end of the trials phase in a blaze of potential controversy. Today, the last of the six contenders being evaluated by the Indian Air Force — the Swedish Gripen — will fly into Bangalore for trials. But Business Standard has learnt that the fighters that will touch down are not the ones Gripen International has offered: the JAS-39IN Gripen NG. Instead, two older-model Gripen-D fighters will arrive.The Gripen NG, a light, agile, ultra-modern fighter built by Swedish aerospace giant Saab, has always been one of the hottest contenders in the fray. Saab’s default on the MoD’s trial directive, which lays down that the fighter being offered must be the one that comes for trials, will delight its rivals — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Eurofighter and MiG — since Gripen is now vulnerable to disqualification.The arrival of the Gripen-D instead of the Gripen NG has a simple cause: the Swedish Air Force, having opted to buy the Gripen NG, has ordered a series of improvements on the Gripen NG prototype. With those under way, Sweden’s flight certification agency, SMV, has ruled that the prototypes require additional flight-testing in Sweden before the aircraft can be sent to


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