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Indian fighter showdown approaches endgame

Although there were rumblings and rumors in Paris this year that the Indians might have trouble closing the deal on their Medium, Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program, a report in AvWeek makes it sound as though it's on the glide slope for a decision soon. Indian defense officials next will go through their formal process of deciding which of the final two competitors, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale, would end up being the cheapest. Reading between the lines, it sounds as though the Indians like the capabilities of both aircraft -- they want to up their buy to 189 jets, whichever one they pick -- and now it's all down to cost.

Ah, but it can't ever be that easy, can it? AvWeek describes some more potential intrigue in this competition:

Even though the government says it has determined how to benchmark the two offers, industry watchers warn that there could still be hurdles. For example, the source selection has left the government with two of the most expensive aircraft in the competition, which will try the available budget—the Boeing F/A-18E/F, Lockheed Martin F-16, MiG-35 and Saab Gripen were eliminated in the April downselect.

“If the [defense ministry] has benchmarked realistically, it will almost definitely mean that the government will need more money to sign a contract for either the Typhoon or Rafale, even accounting for inflation. Is the ministry willing to go down that road?” asks a manager at Boeing.

We've seen before how much Boeing hopes this current deal goes off the rails and opens up a new opportunity for its Super Hornet. Continues AvWeek:
Both Eurofighter and Dassault have publicly insisted that their bids are competitive and privately hope the government has taken several factors into consideration while arriving at their benchmark price, in particular that the aircraft are more capable and newer than some that were in the running.

There is concern, however, that if the government looks across all six competitors originally in the field, the benchmark price will be below that proffered by either Eurofighter or Dassault, which could lead to questions about how the source selection process should proceed.

Perhaps anticipating a rapid change of fortunes, the local MMRCA team offices of the four eliminated contenders remain fully staffed. Officials at all four acknowledge that while they have been given satisfactory debriefs on the downselect, they also believe that things are delicate enough in the final phase for them to remain in the country. “We are ready to respond to the government in any eventuality,” says a manager for Rosoboronexport, the Russian agency fronting the MiG-35 offer. Saab officials have also suggested the competition could open again.

There's a lot of smoke here, but there's some fire -- that detail that these defense contractors are keeping their local representatives around, just in case, is telling. With America's and Europe's defense budgets no longer guaranteed sources of infinite growth, these aerospace companies really, really want this Indian deal.

 

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