SOURCE: Jogin Abraham Thomas / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
India’s quest to procure 114 units of single-engine fighter jet, worth over $10-billion under SEF Tender will be scrapped soon and instead India will remove engine limitations basically allowing all rejected contenders and even winning candidate of earlier scrapped MMRCA Tender a second shot at the world biggest tender for the fighter jets.
What could have possibly have gone wrong that India decided to scrap Single Engine Fighter Tender? Well Idea of Single Engine Fighter Tender was floated by then Defence minister Manohar Parrikar after MMRCA Tender was scrapped and India instead opted for procurement of 26 Dassault Rafale fighter jet directly in a Government-to-Government deal.
Rational behind Parrikar’s decision was that IAF needed new modern fighter jets to get IAF’s Squadron strength back to the sanctioned strength in the shortest possible timeframe. Parrikar was right in his calculation that India simply cannot afford 126 Dassault Rafale fighter jets nor it had funds to develop 5th generation fighter aircraft programs like FGFA and AMCA.
With Modern 4+++ Generation Sukhoi-30MKI already in the fleet which is counted among the best, India badly required low-cost fighter jets which could make up the number, for which he was able to convince IAF to place orders for upgraded Tejas MK-1A jet and was also instrumental in getting IAF onboard Single Engine Fighter Tender. Then what went wrong?
It seems all was fine till Parrikar was in office, Lockheed Martin with their F-16 Block 70 and SAAB with their Gripen E where only two competitors in the race to and whoever wins was supposed to make them in India under Strategic Partnership’ (SP) policy, where winner was supposed to open a joint ventures with their respective Indian partners to make this jet locally in India with complete transfer of technology (ToT) .
F-16 Block 70 which was relatively cheaper and was offered with complete transfer of technology (ToT) due to which it was favourite to win a tender in India till the time Manohar Parrikar tendered his resignation as Defence Minister and was later sworn in as the Chief Minister of Goa last March.
Parrikar exit from Defence ministery in March till Nirmala Sitharaman appointment in September last year saw several flipflops from both Lockheed Martin and SAAB on the issue of transfer of technology (ToT). Both informed Defence Ministry that they will not go in for a complete transfer of technology (ToT) with 49 percent equity participation in the joint ventures that they have linked with their respective Indian partners.
Lockheed Martin which was confident on their chances in the Indian tender was more adamant to restrict transfer of technology (ToT) and even their government officials like US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during in his visit to India had told Indian officials that ToT will come for a price, which somewhat killed the whole rationale behind procurement of single-engine fighter at low cost as planned by Manohar Parrikar .
Single Engine Fighter Tender limited by contenders and their hesitance for complete transfer of technology (ToT) was fast turning into non-starter program after IAF was more interested in Gripen E over F-16 Block 70 and Government more interested in F-16 Block 70 over Gripen E.
IAF off late also wondered into F-35A territory after the proposed development of Indo-Russian 5th Generation FGFA fighter jet failed to take off even after having continuous talks on it for eight years. By Allowing Twin engine fighter back in the race, the current government officially has restarted MMRCA-2 which will take few more years to finalise, while India gets more options, it already has lost more than 15 years in the procurement of 120+ jets while IAF keeps shrinking.