The race for the “mother of all defence deals”, the $10.4 billion project to acquire 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for IAF, is getting hotter.
Defence ministry sources said the technical evaluation report of the gruelling field trials, during which the six foreign fighters in contention were tested by IAF pilots both in India and abroad under different weather conditions, was “virtually ready” now.
“IAF is likely to submit the exhaustive report by next week. Subsequently, a shortlist of the fighters which have done well in the field evaluation test and the staff evaluation will be made,” said a source.
The commercial bids submitted by the six aviation majors — American F/A-18 `Super Hornet’ (Boeing) and F-16 `Falcon’ (Lockheed Martin), Swedish Gripen (Saab), French Rafale (Dassault), Russian MiG-35 (United Aircraft Corporation) and Eurofighter Typhoon (consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies) — will be opened, examined and compared only after that.
This will be the first time that “life-cycle costs” will be taken into account rather than just pitching for the lowest bidder. The “direct acquisition cost”, the cost of operating the fighters over a 40-year period, with 6,000 hours of flying, and the cost of the ToT will all be taken into account to arrive at a “verifiable cost model” for the commercial evaluation.
Complex negotiations on the 50% offsets specified in the contract, under which the selected foreign vendor will be required to plough half of the contract forex value back into India, will also have to be conducted.
IAF is keeping its fingers crossed that the actual contract, under which 18 jets will be bought off-the-shelf and the rest will be manufactured in India under transfer of technology to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, is inked within a year.
IAF obviously wants to get the fighters as soon as possible, grappling as it is with a sharp fall in the number of its fighter squadrons (each has 12 to 18 jets), which is down to just 32 from even the “sanctioned” strength of 39.5.