Fighter procurement for dummies: Ashley Tellis does it again! (Part-4)

February 13th, 2011 - 1:03 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.

Acknowledging the great hopes pinned by India on the MMRCA deal being accompanied by substantive technology transfer - both through offsets and direct knowledge-sharing - he compares the ability and willingness of the competing nations in this regard. At the same time he notes the current limitations of Indian industry to actually absorb technology. Significantly, he urges US industry to “bend over backwards to offer the most generous technology transfer packages possible to India, because this component - along with lower fly away costs - could make the fundamental difference to their ability to carry the day in the MMRCA competition.”The 40 most interesting pages of this slim volume are devoted to a comparative assessment of the six MMRCA contestants. Tellis first makes a tabular comparison of the competing six under the major heads of: engine, airframe, avionics and weapons, and then undertakes a detailed appraisal of individual machines; providing a summary of advantages and disadvantages in each case. It is as fair, comprehensive and professional a comparison of the six diverse machines as one can lay hands on today.However, at the end of this comparison, he dismisses the MiG-35 for being merely a “souped up MiG-29K” and a “developmental platform”; the Gripen for being overly dependent for its vital systems on “third parties including the US”, and the Typhoon and Rafale (in spite of their other merits) for being too expensive!The last word is, understandably, kept for the US duo of F-16IN Super Viper and F/A- 18 E/F Super Hornet. Tellis sees them as the best possible bargain for India, both financially (they claim, by far, the least expensive fly-away cost) and politically. He skillfully wields the availability of a fully developed AESA radar (which finds specific mention in the RFP), offered by both US candidates, as a useful tool to counter common Indian perceptions of their older provenance.The political carrot is dangled rather blatantly by Tellis in the following words: “The political benefits of buying the F-16IN (or F/A-18E/F) would be unparalleled because of the gains accruing to New Delhi from a stronger partnership with the US. Such a development would … send important signals to all of India’s neighbours - especially its adversaries, China and Pakistan.” How well this far from subtle message actually goes down in South Block, remains to be seen.In the concluding section of his report, Tellis makes an attempt to rationalize the IAF’s contemplated force structure, taking into account the 5th generation fighter, MMRCA selectee, LCA and other known inductions. He goes so far as to offer a few alternative force structure models circa 2020 and 2030.The MMRCA contract will be amongst the biggest arms deals ever inked. India’s keenness to “get it right” at last, to bring transparency to the selection process and to maximise benefits to the indigenous aerospace industry has also, arguably, made it one of the most convoluted selection processes ever.The motivation behind the Carnegie Endowment commissioning Ashley Tellis to write this report is obvious; to buttress the case for US industry in the MMRCA competition. However, as bewildered as India’s civilian decision-makers may feel in the unfamiliar and arcane jungle of hardware performance issues couched in military jargon, the US bureaucrat and industry executive is equally at sea in India’s complex geo-political scenario, with its unique operational compulsions, and Byzantine rules, regulations and procedures.Tellis has, therefore, rendered a public service by compiling and analyzing most of the factors that have a bearing on the MMRCA selection process, in one slim compendium, which can be read in one sitting. While the eventual decision in the MMRCA selection may not be based on any of the logic put forth by him, “Dogfight!” would have achieved its purpose if it serves to educate all the actors involved in the MMRCA competition; Indian and foreign. (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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