Professor KEITH HAYWARD and TIM ROBINSON consider the why Rafale won in India, and the industrial implications for Europe’s fighter manufacturers.   [caption id="attachment_6232" align="alignnone" width="375" caption="Champagne corks popping in Paris for Dassault."][/caption] Billed as the ‘last man standing’ contest for the European fighter manufacturers, news that India had selected the Dassault Rafale for its 126-fighter MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) requirement, estimated to be worth between $10-20bn, was a major boost to France and a blow to the pan-European consortium that comprises Eurofighter. However, it is important to note that the selection is merely a statement that Dassault is the preferred bidder. The Hawk experience of negotiating deals in India (20 years) mean that French patience with Indian bureaucracy may be tried.  France too has form in ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’ in losing out with the Rafale in Morocco and also in seeing Eurofighter invited back in to bid in the UAE. In short, it is not over until it is over, and Eurofighter will be praying that some stumbling block is found.

The reasons why

So why did India go with Rafale? [caption id="attachment_6233" align="alignnone" width="333" caption="India already operates the Mirage 2000 fighter. (IAF)"][/caption] First; it is obvious that French aircraft and equipment are already in use in numbers in the IAF. The country already operates Mirage 2000s (set to be upgraded in a $2bn deal) and as well as the Anglo-French Jaguar. It has ordered French Mica air-to-air missiles which will equip its upgraded Mirage 2000s and presumably the Rafale in service too. [caption id="attachment_6235" align="alignnone" width="403" caption="This three-view of a Eurofighter Typhoon with CFTs appeared more than 10 years ago in August 2001 in Aerospace International."][/caption] Second; the Rafale at this point has more rounded weapons and sensor fit – especially for multi-role and air-ground operations with SCALP stand off missiles, AASM precision munitions, and a passive electronically scanned array (PESA). Its combat performance, first in Afghanistan and then in Libya has proved its credentials. Meanwhile the Eurofighter’s expanded list of weapons (and proposed AESA radar) remain, for the most part, on paper, with only one partner (the UK) really pushing hard for a multirole aircraft. The need to get everybody on board for any upgrades, (Conformal fuel tanks (CFT)s were first proposed over ten years ago in 2001) has meant that full exploitation of the aircraft has proceeded at a glacial pace (bar recent minor RAF upgrades for Libya.) The fact now that two Eurofighter partners, Italy and Spain are now struggling with austerity measures means that if extra cash to fund weapons integration was tight before, it is now even scarcer. In short, the piecemeal development progress of Eurofighter has now come back to bite the partner nations. [caption id="attachment_6239" align="alignnone" width="375" caption="Rafale already comes in land-based and carrier-based versions. (Dassault)."][/caption] Third; some observers point out that Eurofighter’s marketing could have been improved. Not only was Germany in the driving seat as the lead nation in this particular campaign when the UK’s BAE Systems, (with Sea Harrier and Hawk Indian procurement experience) may have served better, but also the decision to flag up the Eurofighter's performance versus the Su-30 ( a type that India itself operates) was seen in some quarters as strange. Though China’s military modernisation and regional ambitions concerns India, the priority threat aircraft still remain for the moment Pakistan’s F-16s and JF-17s. [caption id="attachment_6240" align="alignnone" width="375" caption="Eurofighter's concept of a Naval Typhoon. (Eurofighter)."][/caption] Fourth; the lower bid price of the Dassault offer was cited as crucial. This may indicate that Paris has learnt from its experience in the UAE, where its alleged high price in offering the Rafale to the Emirates, may have been a factor in letting Eurofighter back into contention. Simply put, it has been more of a must-win contest for Dassault and France than for Eurofighter. Unlike the UK, for example, which is still to benefit from its contribution to the Lockheed Martin F-35, France only has the Neuron UCAV programme as its next combat aircraft to fall back on. [caption id="attachment_6241" align="alignnone" width="383" caption="Cheaper - but by how much? (Dassault)."][/caption] Fifth: The fact that the Rafale is carrier-capable ‘out of the box’ with it being operated by the French Navy also makes it attractive for India. Though Eurofighter has tried to promote a ‘Sea Typhoon’ most analysts conclude that converting a land-based fighter to a naval one is not a simple, nor cheap undertaking. Though India already has ordered the MiG-29K carrier-based fighter, the slow development pace of the naval variant of its own Tejas means that Rafale could provide a good back-up for the Indian Navy. [caption id="attachment_6236" align="alignnone" width="375" caption="Though there is no suggestion that India would acquire France's ASMP-A missile, its nuclear strike role would be something that the IAF also would find attractive. (French MoD)."][/caption] Six: a point missed or played down by many observers may be a potential IAF nuclear role for Rafale. France already operates the Rafale in the nuclear-capable mission with the ASMP-A missile – and this capability with Indian air-launched nuclear weapons might also be attractive for India to complement its own deterrent. Compared with Eurofighter - which no-one operates in the nuclear strike role, this may be a more significant factor than at first realized. Quietly accommodating IAF requirements for a nuclear-capable strike aircraft with associated cockpit panel for release or consent, (with no restrictions) may have helped tip the balance even further towards Rafale. France also has other growing nuclear links (in civil and also in submarines) and co-operation with New Delhi that also may have played a part in the choice.

Winners and losers

[caption id="attachment_6237" align="alignnone" width="375" caption="This deal will save Rafale production if it is signed off. (Dassault)."][/caption] Sealing this deal will be vital to ensure the survival of the Rafale, which is built and funded entirely by France, and might have been vulnerable to post-Presidential election budget cuts. Although the contract will require significant technology transfer and Indian production, Dassault will maintain work at home and have a breathing space to fight for future business. In the short term, Typhoon is the main loser in this competition. Having lost out to Saab in a recent Swiss order, and like Dassault largely frozen out of North Asian competitions where the US maintains a political edge, the consortium will face diminishing production orders from the four partner states an existing export contracts with Austria and Saudi Arabia. Hopes will now be pinned on further orders in the Middle East, including a possible rerun at the UAE competition as well as the long-running struggle to pin down orders from Oman. Saudi Arabia is also considering buying 48 more Typhoons. Eurofighter is also competing for a Malaysian order. BAE Systems and Finmeccanica should be able to rely on future work on the F-35 JSF, where they are major partners in the US-led programme. However, orders from the US government and UK and Italian governments have been cut. Serious delays to the programme have also meant that there will be a gap in deliveries, which may imply further job losses and cuts in capacity, although sources have been quick to deny any short term impact. EADS-Cassidian is even more vulnerable; with little combat jet work other than the Typhoon to keep it going, it will depend on German government support for R&D and other programmes. This may not be forthcoming as the German government, like its European neighbours, looks to cut public expenditure. Cassidian may also be frozen out of future collaboration on unmanned aerospace systems (UAS) by the Anglo-French initiatives announced last year. [caption id="attachment_6238" align="alignnone" width="357" caption="Eurofighter - focus now back on Middle East for sales? (G Lee/Eurofighter)"][/caption]

Tim Robinson
8 February 2012