The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition of India, also known as the MRCA tender, is a competition to supply 126 multi-role combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force(IAF).
In April 2019, the IAF had issued an RFI (Request for Information) for the procurement of 114 fighter jets at a cost of around USD 18 billion – which was touted to be one of the world’s biggest military procurement programmes at the time. The acquisition of these jets came at a time when the older fleets of Jaguar, Mirage and the MiG 29 were slowly being phased out as they approached the end of their operational life.
The Indian Airforce plans to attain a 42 squadron strength by 2035 and deploy 450 fighter jets each along the borders of Pakistan and China. Additionally, many more stealthy autonomous UCAVs (DRDO AURA), swarm drones (ALFA-S) and unmanned aircraft would join the team to transform into a fully advanced Network-Centric Force capable of sustained multi-role operations.
The Lockheed Martin F-21, Boeing’s F/A-18, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG 35 and Saab’s Gripen are the top competitors fighting for the ultimate gold.
Given the line-up of competitors and the current fleet structure, how does Gripen have the edge in the IAF’s hunt for a fighter?
The SAAB Gripen
The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light single-engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace and defence company SAAB AB. The Gripen has a delta wing and canard configuration with a relaxed stability design and fly-by-wire flight controls. Later aircraft are fully NATO interoperable.
Gripen is the world’s latest designed and the most modern fighter. But besides its leading multirole and netcentric warfare capabilities – where you can do more with fewer aircraft-what really differs is that with the same fleet size – with Gripen – you will have twice the number of airborne fighters and airtime at half the cost, compared to contemporary fighters.Kent-Åke Molin, Sales and Marketing Director, Saab
How does it fit the bill considering India’s scenario?
While contemporary fighters are designed that rely on large fleets and limitless resources, ensuring there are enough aircraft in the air when required. Gripen is designed and tailored for nations that need to operate assets independently during long periods of conflicts against adversaries with perhaps even larger fleet size and really advanced combat systems.
In my view, that also summarises India’s challenges. What distinguishes Gripen from other fighters is that it is designed from the start with these challenges in mindsays Kent-Åke
The key to air dominance, Kent emphasizes, is demonstrable deterrence in air. India shares borders with six countries, each with different terrain and temperature profile. Consequently, the Indian Army needs for surveillance systems on these different border areas are also hugely varied.
The highly contested battlespace of today necessitates a superior electronic warfare capability. The Indian Air Force as well can benefit from a new generation EW solution that gives the pilots an armour of information advantage. A non-negotiable for an effective EW system is its ability to understand radio frequency emitter signals, no matter how many they are, and draw quick conclusions. The result is superior situational awareness that helps the pilot to see first and act first. Modern air forces like the IAF need this game-changing capability to ensure mission success. If India requires, Saab is willing to share its know-how of the GaN ( Gallium Nitride) technology not just for the Gripen programme, but also for ongoing and future indigenous programmes such as the LCA and AMCA.Kent-Åke
The other element is a high level of preparedness to counter consistent efforts to probe air defence systems. To Counter surge attacks and sustain high tempo attacks over extended periods, the IAF would have to demonstrate the power and ability to fight attritional warfare against an enemy with large resources.
With Gripen, India will have the ultimate warhorse but also the workhorse that stays in the air, patrols India’s vast borders 24/7, is resilient to meet surge attacks as well as fight and win attritional warfare scenarios over long periods of conflict.Kent-Ake
What makes the Gripen different from other competitors of its class?
The Gripen features very reliable systems and foolproof equipment that apparently, fail rarely. What that means is the fighter can be deployed for decentralized operations from the temporary base(s), thereby bringing ease and speed to maintenance activities, slashing logistical costs, minimising turnaround time and more.
Having almost 100% of the fighters mission-ready on the tarmac should not be a problem for any platform. But what happens when you start flying, sortie after sortie in high-tempo operations during longer periods? With less maintainable and reliable, heavy, twin engine configurations you will rapidly start exhausting your resources of fuel, spares and manpower. The higher failure rates that inevitably come with the more installed equipment will soon get them grounded.Kent-Ake
The inherent design is another factor that works to the Gripen’s advantage. The system architecture has a clear distinction between tactical and flight-critical features with individual layers in between, ensuring the software and hardware work independently without overlapping. This feature has additional benefits in that tactical updates are now made easier, cheaper and quicker as opposed to the general norm of updating software which generally takes ages.
This one feature is what would keep Gripen way ahead of its peers, even in the years to come.
Getting your hands on this fighter craft means you now get the opportunity to embrace new, cutting edge technology while at the same time, also developing new tactics constantly, thereby ensuring your enemies are five steps behind at all times.
The Swedish aerospace company has pitched the Gripen fighter aircraft to India, reportedly, at ” half the price paid for Rafale”. Priced at 125 Mn, the Gripen is now pitted against the 216 Mn Euro Rafale. Saab expects India to launch a global tender in the “first half of this year”.