SOURCE: Arush singh / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
After a tedious MMRCA tender, with years of trials and all, the tender was scrapped. IAF is facing acute shortage of fighter jets and IN too needs more carrier based fighters. IAF needs another line of light fighters to replace MIG 21/27 fleet to fill the gap with a cheap, low maintenance and effective fighter. A good decision to fill the void as soon as possible.
But, on what basis it was decided that a light fighter can be the one viz single engine? A light fighter should be classified based on it’s performance attributes, procurement and maintenance costs and not by it’s engine if the ultimate goal is to fill the gap with an effective fighter. In my opinion, it is an unfair and weird discrimination policy for defense procurement’s? Let’s take F-16 and F 18 for an example, the procurement cost of F 18, a twin engine jet is slightly more than F-16 but the maintenance cost of F-18 is the least among all Front line fighters in US Forces.
It is well known Defense procurement involves very complicated ( and it gets even more complicated in India). Officials have to go through every detail to finalize a deal which takes years.But there is a simple principle in any defense procurement to minimize costs and logistics problems, you have to buy maximum possible numbers of a particular system.
We know that procurement procedures are slow, tedious and time taking. So why we are planning to go through them three times? Why can’t we do them in one go?
The Boeing F18 Super Hornet, is a well known twin engine jet viz operated by US NAVY and many Air forces across the world.
Boeing is ready to shift it’s production line from USA to India to produce it’s BLOCK 3 variant. But why can’t we just give it a fair chance to participate in IAF’s light fighter tender? Yes, it is a medium multirole fighter but it’s procurement and maintenance costs are similar to F16 block 70 and Gripen NG. Moreover, if we select it for both 100 fighter requirement of IAF and 57 fighter requirement of IN, the cost per plane will go down drastically. The logistics problem by which Indian fighter fleet is plagued will be greatly reduced. Apart from indigenization, Boeing can help India realize all of its upcoming fighter projects much more smoothly than any other foreign manufacturer. Let us underline the areas in which India seeks foreign assistance and then I will tell you How Boeing can help in that area?
1. Readiness for Make in India: Trump administration already said to US Congress that it will try it’s best to sell F16 and F 18 jets to India and will allow Make in India.
2. Significant contribution to AMCA program: Boeing(earlier known as McDonnell Douglas) has already developed two stealth fighter prototypes:
YF 23 ( considered stealthier than F22) and X 32 as competitors to F22 and F 35 in US service.
Moreover, the aerodynamic design and the performance attributes of AMCA are similar to the YF 23.
3. Fastrack development of Tejas (MK2 and MK2 NAVY):
Boeing is world leader in development of carrier based fighters in my opinion and with Boeing’s assistance we can not only develop Tejas Mk2 Navy but also AMCA Navy much faster because BOEING already have the key know how of carrier based fighter operations and stealth technology.
4. Maximum possible Transfer of Technology:
BOEING have much more experience in India than any other American company and is trustworthy. Even though the extent of Transfer of Technology is a matter of another debate but a high level of ToT is expected alongwith offset contracts.
5. Minimum Maintenance and Procurement: If you are looking just at the single engine tender, maybe you will say that procurement cost of F16 will be less than that of F 18 but if you add the tender for Navy, even the procurement costs of F 18 will be the same as F16.
So let me get this straight, buying twin engine F18 block 3 jets is one of the most apt options for India not only from the point of view of cost, ToT, Make in India etc. But also the technology of the jet itself is astonishing. Some of the unique features found on the newest Block 3 F18s are:
1. Conformal fuel tanks ( for extended range and improved stealth).
2. Dedicated electronic attack variant ( EA-18 GROWLER).
3. Ability to carry weapons internally in a internal weapons pod for stealth missions.
4. Internally mounted IRST pod ( not occupying hard points on the wing).
5. Especially designed frontal RCS reduction measures.
6. Newly designed radar to counter stealth fighter.
So, we can conclude that the new F 18 is a 4++ gen semi stealthy fighter having a cost comparable to those single engine fighters India is planning to procure.
Although the amount of actual contract can’t be estimated, but by some analysis we can predict approximate amount. India has planned to spend 15 billion $ on 100 light fighters and another 15 billion $ on 57 carrier based fighters. But if F 18 is procured in both the tenders, it will cost around 23- 25 billion $ at most saving billions of $ and reducing a hell lot of logistics problems. We can use the money saved by this procurement into the very crucial fifth generation fighter development programs: FGFA and AMCA which are way more important than these stop gap fighter procurements. I hope the new Defense minister can take some strong decisions like as the above one suggested.
Lastly, I want to make clear that all the fighter jets that are offered to India are very capable and the aim is not to promote one over the other. I am just trying to suggest a economical and effective solution.