France clears technology transfer for Rafale fighter: Dassault

November 5th, 2008 - 2:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, Nov 5 (IANS) The French government has cleared the full transfer of technology for the Rafale combat jet that is one of the six aircraft in contention for an Indian Air Force (IAF) order for 126 fighters in a deal worth $10 billion, its manufacturer Dassault Aviation says.”When we talk about technology transfer, we mean full technology transfer and not in bits and pieces,” J.P.H.P. Chabriol, Dassault’s senior vice president for military sales, told a group of visiting Indian journalists at the company’s headquarters here.

“The way we work, we first have to obtain clearance of the government before putting in our proposal. If we win the order, we can begin work on transferring technology from day one - unlike our competition,” he added.

The technology transfer would include that of a cutting edge radar that gives the Rafale the ability to also function as a close battlefield support airborne warning and control system (AWACS), Chabriol maintained, adding that the software source code would also be provided with the equipment.

The Advanced Extended Search Array (AESA) radar that Dassault is offering is still under development by French aerospace giant Thales, a partner in the Rafale project, and is expected to be integrated with the aircraft by 2012, around which time the IAF is expected to narrow down its choice of aircraft.

“We have full faith in the competency of Thales to deliver a top of the line AESA radar,” Chabriol added.

Transfer of technology is a key clause in the Defence Policy-2006 (DPP-2006) that governs India’s purchases of military hardware. Two other companies in the fray - Boeing and European conglomerate Eurofighter - are also offering an AESA radar with their F/A-18 Super Hornet and Typhoon respectively but say the transfer of this technology would be dependent to the extent the American government permits as the radar’s manufacturer is US electronics giant Raytheon.

At least one of these two companies has said they would definitely not transfer the software source code that enables the programming of the radar. What this means is that the IAF would have to specify the mission parameters to enable the manufacturer configure the radar.

Defence analysts point out that this could seriously compromise India’s national security as the IAF would not be able to re-programme the radar should it wish to at a later stage.

“This is not an issue with us. We will not only fully transfer the technology for the AESA radar but also provide the software source code so that that the IAF can programme it in the way it wishes to,” Chabriol told IANS in response to a specific query.

Apart from the Rafale, the F/A-18 and the Typhoon, the other aircraft in the fray are the Lockheed Martin F-16, the Saab Grippen and the MiG-35, which is essentially an upgraded version of the MiG-29 that the IAF already operates.

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.

Chabriol also pointed out that being 100 percent French gave Dassault a distinct edge over its competitors on the technology transfer issue.

“The Grippen is powered by a US engine and has other US components too. Similar is the case with the Eurofighter, which has quite a few American parts. So, they would have to first seek the US government’s approval. In the case of the F-18, approval would have to be sought not only of the government but also of parliament (the US Congress).

“This legislative approval is not an issue in our case,” Chabriol added.

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