Vic­tim of pol­i­tics or se­ri­ous in­tent ?

Air Mar­shal M. Matheswaran on the new RFI

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Vayu -

In this re­ac­tive piece, Air Mar­shal M Matheswaran writes on the IAF’s re­cent RFI is­sued on 6 April 2018, for fighter air­craft, this de­tailed doc­u­ment de­riv­ing much from the ear­lier fully eval­u­ated MMRCA pro­ject which was scrapped in 2015. Since much of the in­for­ma­tion of al­ready avail­able with the IAF, he opines that with the Gov­ern­ment mov­ing into 2019 elec­tion mode, this se­cond round may go on much longer than an­tic­i­pated.

The In­dian Air Force is­sued a RFI ( Re­quest for In­for­ma­tion) on 6 April 2018 to global OEMs of fighter air­craft, and in the process aban­don­ing the RFI for sin­gle- engine fight­ers floated two years ear­lier. The cur­rent RFI of 73 pages is a de­tailed doc­u­ment, which has de­rived much from the ear­lier fully eval­u­ated MMRCA pro­ject, scrapped in 2015. Much of all the in­for­ma­tion is al­ready avail­able with the IAF, thanks to the ear­lier eval­u­a­tion. Nev­er­the­less, the RFI sig­nals an in­tent, and al­lows the OEMs to fur­nish cer­tain tech­ni­cal and pol­icy re­lated in­for­ma­tion that would be very use­ful in for­mu­lat­ing a very prac­ti­cal and vi­able RFP. Ef­fec­tively, the RFI sig­nals a re­peat of the MMRCA process for the same multi-role air­craft, tech­nolo­gies and pro­duc­tion in­tent. The play­ers are the same, sim­i­lar pro­cesses and method­olo­gies, and so, what is dif­fer­ent now? Go­ing by GOI’s track record on ma­jor ac­qui­si­tions, this would well be an­other 5-year cy­cle, which means if everything goes well and ef­fi­ciently, the first air­craft may be with the IAF not be­fore 8 years, that is not be­fore 2026! Why couldn’t the gov­ern­ment fast-track the process through a sen­si­ble G to G agree­ment? Quite ob­vi­ously, af­ford­abil­ity is an is­sue but MMRCA has also be­come a vic­tim of the pol­i­tics of the day.

There are some sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences that come into play in this re­peat MMRCA process. In the pre­vi­ous eval­u­a­tion, there were one or two air­craft that may have been considered as still un­der de­vel­op­ment, for ex­am­ple the Gripen-NG and the MiG-35. In the cur­rent sce­nario all com­peti­tors will have fully devel­oped and ma­tured plat­forms, par­tic­u­larly the Gripen E and the MiG-35. New up­graded avion­ics and sen­sors may be in op­er­a­tion. In the last eval­u­a­tion, AESA radar, which was a crit­i­cal re­quire­ment, was mostly part of sub­jec­tive eval­u­a­tion as ex­cept for the Amer­i­cans, none had op­er­a­tionalised AESA radar. In the cur­rent sce­nario, all the con­tenders will field op­er­a­tional AESA radars. Tech­nol­ogy re­quire­ments asked for in the cur­rent RFI

are vir­tu­ally a re­peat of what was asked for in the ear­lier RFP, but it is now sup­ported by DPP 2016 with bet­ter clar­ity in poli­cies with re­spect to cat­e­gori­sa­tion, TOT re­quire­ments, and in­dige­nous con­tent strate­gies. More im­por­tantly, while the pre­vi­ous RFP dealt with HAL as the sole pro­duc­tion agency and tech­nol­ogy part­ner, the RFI in­di­cates the op­tions for In­dian pri­vate sec­tor as the pro­duc­tion agency. This could be a dou­ble- edged sword. Un­less In­dian pri­vate sec­tor with strong foun­da­tion in man­u­fac­tur­ing and tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion are in­volved, they could end up as glo­ri­fied li­cence-pro­duc­tion agents of for­eign OEMs. We can see var­i­ous OEMs and In­dian pri­vate sec­tors adopt­ing a hedg­ing strat­egy by an­nounc­ing MOUs for part­ner­ship. With the re­cent an­nounce­ment of Boe­ing, the align­ments are clear: Boe­ing with HAL and Mahin­dra, Lock­heed Martin with Tata (TASL), Das­sault with Reliance De­fence, and Saab with Adani. Eurofighter and the Mikoyan have not an­nounced any­thing yet but it is most likely that they would pre­fer HAL as their part­ner. In all these group­ings, other than HAL there is re­ally no pri­vate sec­tor with any sig­nif­i­cant aerospace and fighter air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. While Tatas and Mahin­dras have the man­u­fac­tur­ing cul­ture and foun­da­tion, the other two, Reliance and Adani are pri­mar­ily trad­ing and in­fra­struc­ture com­pa­nies. Given the com­plex­ity of fighter air­craft tech­nolo­gies, these pri­vate sec­tors will take decades to im­bibe the hitech man­u­fac­tur­ing and in­no­va­tion cul­ture, pro­vided its apex lead­er­ship moves away from trad­ing cul­ture to tech­no­crat cul­ture. It is there­fore, im­per­a­tive that the gov­ern­ment cre­ates a strate­gic mech­a­nism to closely mon­i­tor and steer the In­dian pri­vate sec­tor to­wards achiev­ing strate­gic objectives of tech­nol­ogy ac­qui­si­tion and de­vel­op­ment, much like the French DGA.

DPP 2016 has brought in ma­jor changes which will im­pact on how the eval­u­a­tion is now rein­ter­preted. As op­posed to the ear­lier sim­ple set of ‘ manda­tory SQRs’, DPP 2016 per­mits SQR to be listed in three sets: Es­sen­tial Pa­ram­e­ters A (which will be tested fully in eval­u­a­tion), Es­sen­tial Pa­ram­e­ters B ( which need to be val­i­dated in a

cer­tain time­frame), and En­hanced Per­for­mance Pa­ram­e­ters ( where each OEM can high­light ad­di­tional or ex­tra tech­nol­ogy strengths, which could give them ad­di­tional eval­u­a­tion cred­its). This could make the eval­u­a­tion more com­pre­hen­sive, as well as com­plex and tricky.

Why is it that In­dia’s ma­jor ac­qui­si­tions are al­ways de­layed re­peat­edly caus­ing

griev­ous dam­age to the coun­try in terms of ad­verse im­pact on force struc­tures, higher costs, op­por­tu­ni­ties lost, and miss­ing the tech­nol­ogy bus ? The IAF’s AJT se­lec­tion was com­pleted first in 1985 but it took 20 years more to sign the con­tract. The air-toair re­fu­elling tanker pro­posal con­tin­ues to go around in cir­cles for more than 10 years. LUH for the Army and Air Force went through three rep­e­ti­tions over the last 12 years, and there are many more cases.

The problem lies in the ab­sence of right cou­pling of de­fence in­dus­trial strat­egy and mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion. It be­comes worse when po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ships do not have the ex­per­tise or the time for de­fence is­sues, which al­lows the gen­er­al­ist bu­reau­cratic sys­tem to play the de­ci­sion mak­ing game. If de­fence min­is­ters are not tech­nocrats and lack the depth in un­der­stand­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tional and strate­gic is­sues, it com­pounds the problem.

The orig­i­nal MMRCA RFP was a path­break­ing one and could have ben­e­fit­ted the coun­try im­mensely if it had been fol­lowed in earnest. While for­ward­ing the draft RFP for MOD ap­proval (which took two more years), a most im­por­tant is­sue was flagged – that the fi­nal de­ci­sion on this se­lec­tion should be in con­so­nance with para 59 of DPP 2005. This said that in ma­jor high value ac­qui­si­tions, con­sid­er­a­tions should come into play in terms of strate­gic, tech­no­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal, and eco­nomic ben­e­fits that would ac­crue to In­dia from the com­pet­ing ven­dor’s coun­try, and such a de­ci­sion would be made by the CCS, ir­re­spec­tive of who­ever is the L1. The im­pli­ca­tion of this is that gov­ern­ments should get in­volved, and CCS should make the fi­nal de­ci­sion as to who should be ne­go­ti­ated with. Quite ob­vi­ously, this was too com­plex for of­fi­cials in­volved, and was ig­nored with con­ve­niently dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Para 59 is re­peated ver­ba­tim as para 73 in DPP 2006, and a wa­tered down ver­sion as para 105 in DPP 2016.

It is very ev­i­dent that the gov­ern­ment has al­ready moved into 2019 elec­tion mode. If the RFP process and the trial eval­u­a­tion are not com­pleted be­fore it, which looks very un­likely, the se­cond round of MMRCA may go on much longer than an­tic­i­pated.

Saab Gripen

Lock­heed Martin F-16

Boe­ing F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net

Das­sault will be de­liv­er­ing 36 Rafales to the IAF

Rus­sia’s MiG-35

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