Monday, 24 January, 2022
HomeDefenceSingle engine fighter jet procurement hits air pocket, faces questions

Single engine fighter jet procurement hits air pocket, faces questions

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Defence ministry is concerned about restricted competition, potential single vendor situation that could spark a scandal.

New Delhi: The air force’s single engine fighter procurement has hit an air pocket with the government raising questions on why the selection should be based on the number of engines and not technical capability of contending jets.

The air force has been facing probing questions from the top defence ministry bureaucracy that fears a potential single vendor situation given that the competition will be limited to only two global vendors. Both these vendors were rejected in an earlier round of procurement on grounds that they didn’t meet technical requirements.

The debate took off after the air force officially moved the single engine jet procurement under the new strategic partnerships model that would involve setting up a new fighter production line in India.

Sources have told ThePrint that the defence ministry is not yet convinced with the air force argument for breaking up its requirements into two parts – a new single engine jet line and a different double engine jet programme.

Sources in the know said that a few rounds of communication have taken place between the air force and the defence ministry prior to a planned Request for Information (RFI) that will kick start the procurement.

The American F-16 and the Swedish Gripen are the only two contenders in this race. But if the engine requirement is taken off and selection is to be made only on capability, it opens up the field to more contenders, including the MiG-35, Eurofighter, F-18 and Rafale.

A very cautious bureaucracy is aware of two on-going Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiries into recent defence deals that have taken the premise that bribes were paid to favour the selection of one foreign vendor over the other.

“We do not want another AgustaWestland where the CBI thinks that specifications were tailored and tests rigged in favour of the Italians,” a senior South Block source told ThePrint.

While the single engine procurement has been talked about for the past several months, a formal decision to go ahead will have to be taken by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Before demitting office, her predecessor Manohar Parrikar had been vocal in his support for the procurement but the process for approvals was not moved.

The defence ministry’s official strategic partnerships procedure does mention fighter jets as a priority project, but does not specify the number of engines as a selection criterion.

Several unofficial “white papers” are doing the rounds within the defence ministry that bring out potential problems that could emerge as the procurement progresses, in particular the fear that the competition will result in a single vendor situation.

One such paper points out that one of the points on which the American F-16 was officially rejected during the last round of selection in 2011 was that the air force termed the aircraft incapable of further upgrades due to a lack of growth potential.

As potential to upgrade is a key requirement as the planes will be used for the next several decades, the paper argues that the selection therefore is being moulded in favour of the Swedish competitor.

While there is a lot of work ahead – from the official tender to selection and financial scrutiny – the fighter jet deal has evoked sharp interest. The two competitors have already tied up with Indian partners. Saab, which makes the Gripen, has announced the Gautam Adani group as a partner, while Lockheed Martin that makes the F-16 has selected the Tata Group.

The long road ahead includes the selection of a project management consultancy by the defence ministry to scrutinise the financial and technical capabilities of Indian companies that will apply for strategic partner status to make the jets.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. It is such indecisiveness which is the bane of defense procurement in India. Somebody just got to freeze & firmup the requirements otherwise the purchase process will continue indefinitely.

  2. The best,safest and fastest way left to government is to revive manufacturing of Rafale fightets in India in technical collaboration with HAL. The project is ready. Only it has to be fine tuned and blaming game left behind. Everybody must be concerned with security of India only.

  3. The best situation should be to include all vendors, both single and dual engine jet manufacturers. Let them chose their own Indian counterpart and do their bidding, just like in MMRCA. But care should be taken to finalize the price and not keep the negotiations hanging, like that of MMRCA.

  4. It really angers me that essential defence purchases almost always get mired in some controversy or the other, which delays the procurement of these items. It appears there are vested interests at every stage, trying their best to stall the process. Why can’t these rubbish procedures be replaced with a more streamlined process that makes purchases faster.

  5. Gripen E is totally untested. Has less than 30 hours of flight time till. It don’t have AESA functional fully, engine is USA made.
    What they can give to us by TOT?
    Airframe design?
    That we have mastered by Tejus program.
    Fly by Wire? That also we hv mastered.

    So what they can give us?
    This is the same reason that F16 said no to TOT as they know tht SAAB has no Tech of its own tht they can give to india .And usa will not allow SAAB or F16 tech to go to indians.

    Remember that USA president is nationalist to level of lunatic, he dnt understand long term strategies. He just don’t want to give usa tech or co-produce. Just want to sell and keep selling like they do with saudies.
    Which preciously india doesn’t want.

    It us very correct by Defence ministry senior beurocrate to ask from IAF that why they want to restrict contract as single engine only ?

    we don’t really have any good single engine fighter in world now.

    World has moved to double engine
    All new cutting edge programma are double engine, for a reason.
    All single engine program are either old, or made for third world country for aim of selling them .
    We will not get that high tech cutting edge tech which is proven in any single engine design now. This is well understandable by a laymen but not by IAF!
    SAAB E is just untested plane. We can’t believe on them, let them develop it completely with a decent on air time.

    It will be better for india to open this contract for double engine and buy more Rafale, develop TejusMK1A fully and mass produce and Develop mk2 finally .
    We shall meanwhile focus on Sukhoi Su35 Pak fa T50 stealth plane .

    This is only viable strategy for both ling term and short term. And as far as my info is. Ministry of defence , our NSA & PMO is more or less convinced in this plan.

  6. Government should opt for 198 or 216 Dassault Rafale aircrafts instead of going for F16 or Saab Gripen because F16 is made up of outdated technology and Gripen doesn’t meets the standards set by the Indian Air Force. Rafale is the best aircraft. It will help IAF in long term.

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