Dassault seeks level playing field for IAF combat jet order

November 5th, 2008 - 2:08 pm ICT by IANS  

F-16Paris, Nov 5 (IANS) French aviation major Dassault, whose Rafale fighter is one of the six aircraft in the fray for a $10 billion Indian Air Force (IAF) order for 126 combat jets, has sought a level playing field in the competition, saying two sets of mismatched planes are in the fray and that it does not want to lose out on this count.”The Rafale, as a twin-engine aircraft, is a heavier jet and is in the same class as the (Boeing) F/A-18 Super Hornet and the (Eurofighter) Typhoon. The other three aircraft are in the lighter variety,” J.P.H.P. Chabriol, Dassault Aviation’s senior vice president for military sales, told a group of visiting Indian journalists at the company’s headquarters here.

“The IAF’s RFP (request for proposal), in the first analysis, in terms of performance, is not extremely demanding. We don’t want a situation where the other three aircraft are compliant with the RFP but we lose out on the price differential,” Chabriol added.

“The IAF has to decide whether it wants a heavy aircraft or a light aircraft,” he contended.

The other aircraft in the fray are the Lockheed Martin F-16, the Saab Grippen and the MiG-35. The first two are single-engine aircraft while the third has a twin power plant but is considered a lighter jet since it is essentially an upgraded version of the MiG-29 that the IAF currently operates.

What concerned Chabriol was that the price of the jet would depend on whether a light or a heavy aircraft got the IAF nod.

“Quite obviously, there would be a price differential if a single or a twin-engine jet is chosen. If India takes the L-1 (lowest tender) route this would be unfair because we have a good product but this quality comes at a price,” he maintained.

In this context, Chabriol noted that Dassault had made an “unsolicited offer” for selling 40 Rafale aircraft to India, an indication that the company would not be too disappointed if it did not win the larger order.

“We have had a presence in India since independence (in 1947) The first jet that the IAF flew was the Toofani, followed by the Mystere and the Mirage-2000 (that entered squadron service in the 1980s). Then, your navy has flown the Alize. The Rafale would be the logical next step,” he pointed out.

“Three of your former air chiefs (Air Chief Marshals A.Y. Tipnis, S. Krishnaswamy and S.P. Tyagi) have flown the Rafale and certified it to be a good aircraft. There is no reason why we should not get the order,” Chabriol contended.

Dassault is the prime contractor for the Rafale, which is currently in operation with the French Navy and the French Air Force. It has also entered into collaborations with a number of French companies to supply various systems for the aircraft. Primary among these companies are electronics major Thales, which has supplied 90 percent of the optronics for the fighter, and Snecma, which supplies the engines.

In addition, the company has floated Rafale International to co-market the aircraft.

The IAF had floated its global tender for the jets in September 2007 and these were opened earlier this year. The technical bids are currently being evaluated after which all the six aircraft will be put through a rigorous testing process in Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh.

The first is meant to gauge the aircraft’s ability to operate in the humid conditions of south, the second their effectiveness in the deserts of Rajasthan and the third to study their suitability in the icy Himalayan heights of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.

By the time the evaluation process is complete, the size of the order is likely to rise to around 200 jets, as the IAF, which is down to 32 squadrons from a high of 39 1/2, is expected to see a further depletion of its fleet due to the retirement of some its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft. The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 45 squadrons.

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