SOURCE: DINESH BEHARA/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Gripen is a multi-role fighter aircraft by Sweden-based Saab AB Company. It is in service with countries such as Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
Gripen can fill the requirement of two contemporary acquisition programs for IAF, thereby reducing the duration for acquisition and increasing the squadrons of fighter aircraft.
1. Gripen can replace the need for Tejas Mk2
In the first instance, one might think how crazy will it be to substitute an indigenous aircraft with an imported one when riding high on the theme of self-reliance. Strategically, importing defence needs is discouraged but as per the latest SIPRI reports, even though there has been a considerable decrease, India still is the largest importer at 11% of global imports. There are even some more acquisitions in the pipeline such as Aerial Refueling aircraft, Medium Transport Aircraft, AWE&Cs, Carrier-based fighter aircraft for INS Vikrant, etc. which all are going to be imported. Then, why not import an aircraft which can fulfill the requirements that we are exactly developing in Tejas Mk2 which is akin to Gripen?
Tejas Mk2 is a further development of HAL Tejas. In terms of design, both aircraft have delta plus canard wings and a single vertical stabilizer configuration, powered by a single GE F414 powerplant.
From the above comparison, one easily spot the similarities. Gripen E is marginally better in terms of performance and with 10 hardpoints against 13, it carries more payload than Tejas Mk2. As for weaponry both are on par and share Meteor missiles in common, which are used in Rafales also other indigenous or French weapons can be adapted such as MICA, SCALP, Astra, Spice, etc.
Tejas Mk2 is currently in its early developmental stages with the prototype planned to roll out by the end of 2023, and serial production by 2028. Hence, considering any unfortunate delays in the Tejas Mk2 program and the current squadron strength of IAF, Gripen E would be a good bet.
Once touted as the ‘mother of all defence deals’ MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) tender in 2007 was intended to acquire 126 fighter aircraft, then in 2018 comes MRFA (Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft) or MMRCA 2.0 tender for 114 aircraft, as 36 Rafales were acquired, which was finalized in 2015.This requirement which is continuing for the last 15 years needs to be closed. Again, Gripen is one of the contenders among the likes of Boeing F-18, Boeing F-15, LM F-21, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Sukhoi Su-35, and MiG-35.
Dassault Rafale is the favourite and previously IAF had selected Rafale as the winner in the MMRCA tender. But there are disagreements over the share of technology to Manufacture locally in India by HAL. Gripen’s unit cost of $85M is less than Rafale’s $115M. Saab has agreed to the full technology transfer of Gripen to India. The current amalgamation of Gripen includes 67% of components sourced from European suppliers and 33% from the U.S.
Gripen shares a lot of technology with French systems, and India has a lot of French-origin weapons and avionics hence, the aircraft can be easily adapted. Also, customization with indigenous radar, missiles, avionics is possible.
The requirement for MRFA is 114 and Tejas Mk2 is around 120, which makes about 13 to 14 squadrons. The GE F414-INS6 engine is also common between Gripen E and AMCA (until upgraded by an engine produced with joint-venture with full ToT or IP rights).
Therefore, Gripen is best positioned to be elected for IAF. One it will clear the conundrum of MMRCA or MRFA tenders with a lesser acquisition cost. Two, with similar features, specifications, and performance it can replace the Tejas Mk2, and by doing so, we can fully shift the focus for AMCA, which will be a vital leap in generational technology propelling towards 5th gen aircraft.
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