Fighter procurement for dummies: Ashley Tellis does it again! (Part-1)

February 13th, 2011 - 12:48 pm ICT by ANI  

F-16 By Admiral Arun Prakash New Delhi, Feb 13 (ANI): Amongst the strategic analysts on the Indo-US horizon, few are as incisive and diligent as Ashley J Tellis. In this context Tellis has the advantages of an Indian background and, consequently, a profound insight into India’s security issues.

Uniquely, he is as much at home on Raisina Hill as in Foggy Bottom or the White House. I recall, as a middle-ranking officer, reading, with fascination, his laser-sharp analysis of India’s naval build-up of the 1980s accompanied by a compelling, if somewhat surreal, prognosis about our maritime strategy.In recent times, Tellis has been an influential opinion-maker; his post-26/11 Congressional testimony, as well as his advice and writings during the Indo-US nuclear negotiations have, no doubt, had a deep impact on policy-making in Washington and Delhi.His latest offering is a January 2011 report, commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (where he is a senior associate), on India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) selection process, currently underway. This elephantine ritual, now said to be in its final stages, is being watched with bated breath by six contending international aerospace companies and eight nations straddling the Atlantic.At the end of the MMRCA competition lies a veritable pot of gold, not only because the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) notional requirement of 126 fighters may actually exceed 200, but also because the winner of the competition will have privileged access to the huge, growing market of a rising power. Just the initial worth of this purchase could be anything from US$ 10-15 billion - with much more to follow. These are lean times, world-wide, and bagging this colossal contract could have a significant impact on economies - especially the smaller ones. For some of the competing European companies it could even spell the difference between prosperity and looming oblivion.This 140 page monograph is, thus, aptly titled; “Dogfight!”*, and its striking cover could serve admirably as a promo for a Hollywood blockbuster. However, optics apart, this is a well- timed document; meticulously researched, thoughtfully composed and logically argued. That Tellis falters in his gallant attempt at objectivity, only towards the end, should not detract from the value of this report - at least for the cognoscenti. He is, no doubt, rooting for the US industry, but he would have performed a valuable service if he succeeds in his attempt to enlighten the uninformed Indian policymaker- both politician and bureaucrat.Before discussing the substance of this report, the MMRCA competition needs to be placed in its proper context. Peacetime aircraft attrition and creeping obsolescence are the twin specters which haunt every air chief, and make him ask for more. In the case of the IAF, the problem has been aggravated by the fact that a significant proportion of its combat strength consisted of Soviet era MiG-21s of which about 850 were licence-produced by HAL. Apart from its high accident rate, the MiG-21 also, had many operational limitations. Its planned indigenous replacement, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), promised by the DRDO by the early 1990s, has come 20 years later, as a case of “too little, too late.” Notwithstanding the up-gradation of a certain number of MiG-21s to the more capable ‘Bison’ standard, and the induction of some 125 Sukhoi-30MKI, the IAF order of battle has, over the past decade, seen major erosion; in numbers as well as in capability.The IAF dilemma has been compounded by the ongoing modernization of the air forces of neighbouring China and its ally, Pakistan, which happen to be significantly complementary. By the end of this decade, the PLA Air Force will deploy a formidable force of nearly 2000 aircraft, of which 500 will be air-superiority fighters from the Sukhoi bureau, with an equal number of Chinese-built 4th generation machines, leavened with a small number of 5th generation stealth aircraft. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is slated to receive 200-250 Chinese fighters in the next few years, in addition to all the F-16 C/D fighters it can squeeze out of the US. Equipped with airborne early-warning & control (AWACS) aircraft, long-range fighter radar and beyond visual range (BVR) missiles, this 4th generation force poses a formidable challenge to the IAF.Against this opposition, the IAF currently fields approximately 600-700 combat aircraft, only some of which can be classified as 4th generation. Operating in synergy with the newly inducted air-to-air re-fuellers as well as the airborne early-warning AWACs, they represent a substantive capability for homeland defence, close support and limited trans-national operations. In the offing is the PAK-FA, 5th generation fighter to be “jointly developed” with Russia. However, the IAF faces an onerous challenge, and needs to ensure that it can field combat aircraft of appropriate capability in sufficient numbers to fight a simultaneous war on two fronts against well-equipped adversaries.The initial IAF plan to tackle its problems of obsolescence, attrition and declining strength by inducting substantial numbers of the tried and trusted French Mirage-2000, did not find favour with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Air Headquarters, then, asked to write up the Air Staff Requirement (ASR) for a new aircraft. Six years later, in 2007, emerged a comprehensively drawn up, 211-page Request for Proposals (RFP). (ANI)Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of the former Chief of Naval Staff and now Chairman of the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), Admiral Arun Prakash (Retired). Please note that this article is from the NMF web site

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