Friday, 20 May 2011

Eurofighter TYPHOON Or RAFALE Your Guess As Good As Mine

Everybody in the defense sector was waiting for the MMRCA decsion from India, some in their arrogance believed it was a foregone conclusion due to the American might. I must confess I was afraid of the same thing but somewhere I had hoped that MoD would do the right thing based on the evaluation of IAF and not bow to the American pressure.

There was a lot of surprise, and considerable anguish in Washington, Stockholm and, presumably, Moscow as well as New Delhi over the decision by the Ministry of Defence to shortlist the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon in India’s $10+ billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition. The rejection of both American bids by Boeing of its F-18, and by Lockheed Martin of its F-16 have surprised many who had expected the tender to go American, and thus further consolidate military-technological ties between the United States and India. The belief was that a defence acquisition on this scale would be a political decision, and that there was limited utility in India’s courting the favourat this juncture of Western Europe or Russia. Further, many saw a decision to buy American as a quid pro quo of sorts for Washington’s providing India an exception on international civilian nuclear commerce as part of the landmark nuclear agreement between the two countries (“a 123-for-126 trade-off” in the words of one foreign diplomat in Delhi). Certainly, the allure of the MMRCA deal helped many promoters of the U.S.-India relationship in Washington push harder for close ties.

So what happened? First, just as important as political considerations is the question of which aircraft is best suited for the purposes of the Indian air force. Rigourous technical trials were conducted in various climates: Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh. At the Leh trials in early 2010, four aircraft performed poorly, including reportedly the two American candidates, which were said to have had trouble operating at high altitudes at such low temperatures. In fact, the final short-list should not have been a surprise: Praveen Swami reported the Eurofighter’s front-runner status after trials late last year, and over three months ago, Indian newspapers confirmed that the Eurofighter had finished first and the Rafale second with the Gripen and F-18 rounding off the top four.

Second, the spectre of corruption which looms large over the Indian defence acquisition process proved a double-edged sword for U.S. suppliers. American manufacturers and the U.S. government were fully confident that the comparative transparency of their defense sales process would give them an edge over their Russian and European competitors, still reeling from the legacies of HDW, Gorshkov and Bofors. However, the scandals raging in India related to the Commonwealth Games and the 2G spectrum auction also made it near impossible for the results of technical trials to be overruled by India’s political leaders on non-technical grounds.

Third, although the reliability of the United States as a supplier post-sales may have been an over-exaggerated concern, the United States was not seen as pliable enough on access to technology. European governments positioned themselves as far more accommodating of India’s desires to access high-technologies, and were more willing to tailor their bids to assuage Indian concerns. With both the Eurofighter and the Rafale, the likelihood of India becoming a de facto partner in joint production and development may be far greater. Washington was also seen as overly stringent on end-use monitoring, and the Indian government had been previously criticised perhaps unfairly for compromising Indian interests on that front.

Finally, American ambiguity on India’s geopolitical concerns played a role. This had at least two dimensions to it. The first was the notion perpetuated by Washington, especially by the current administration, of continued American relative decline. Despite buoyancy in many quarters in New Delhi regarding the United States’ future as a strong partner, the prevailing impression probably incorrect is that the United States is a losing investment over the long-term, even among those favourably disposed towards the United States. Second, the general drift in relations since 2008 has only increased both countries’ resolve to drive harder bargains. This period of drift was initiated by the Obama administration’s early missteps on China and Afghanistan and has persisted despite the president’s visit to India last November as a consequence of political developments in both capitals.

Moving forward: a few further considerations. First, this decision will undoubtedly have a blow back effect in Washington, providing ammunition to the many sceptics of U.S.-India relations. Second, while the MMRCA may be a landmark deal, it is not the only one, and American suppliers have steadily encroached upon the fast-growing Indian defence market. In fact, it may lead to some soul-searching on the part of the U.S. government and U.S. industry as to what they could have done better. Finally, it is not over yet. Many forget that the Dassault Rafale was considered completely out of the competition only two years ago. Previous such tenders including, most notably, a massive deal for 197 helicopters for the Indian army have been unceremoniously scrapped; in that case, the favored Eurocopter bid was tarnished and the U.S. manufacturer Bell returned to the fray. The defence minister’s unusually public warning on the subject of corruption just days ago suggests concern as much as caution.

Lets us look at some salient points of the formidable aircrafts left in the race now


Both these aircraft are very advanced delta canard config aircraft. They have seen quite some action and have been favorites of air forces all over the world. Although the aircraft look similar on the out, the airframe is completely different, and every component on it serves a different purpose.

The Typhoon is a formidably built aircraft. Its tough, has a huge canard which is placed at an angle to the ground. And its canards are up front on the nose, Now this really helps it pull up quick. What this does is that it creates a virtual tail heavy feeling for the aircraft which allows it to point its nose in any direction very quickly like the Flanker.

Another thing worth a mention is its canopy. It has a bubble canopy that offers a clear view for the pilot. The intakes are placed below the fuselage. Although these have its own benefits like ability to fly at slow speeds, they do tend to create problems at high speeds. At high speed turns, the airframe goes through great amount of stresses. But the airframe of the Typhoon is very strong, and designed in a beautiful way, and its perfectly capable of handling those stresses. The only downside is the maintenance that would be required to keep it in good shape.

One look at the wings, and its clear that the Brits wanted this to be one maneuverable machine. Everything about the aircraft screams speed and maneuverability. The wings are not straight, they are slight curved upwards to increase their strength, and be able to handle low speeds in a better way. Even the slats are controlled through powerful motor screws which require less space and move quickly and firmly. The vertical stabilizer is conventional though.

The Typhoon has a variable intake, which means that the intake on the Typhoon can open up or close a little to control the amount of air entering the engines. This is a great feature which allows the aircraft to be just as efficient at high speeds, as it is at low speeds.

When the aircraft reaches higher speeds, a lot of air at high velocities starts to enter the intakes. It becomes very difficult to combust all this air, so a lot of fuel starts to go waste, and the engine starts to lose thrust. This can be avoided by reducing the inlet size, so less air enters at high speed, and when it reaches the combustion chamber, it slows down due to the larger size of the chamber, so it ignites properly and thrust is maintained.

The Rafale is a different beast. It isn't as complex, but its sturdy. It is designed in a way that makes it look beautiful and rigid at the same time. The canards of Rafale are not as big as that of the Typhoon, and they are placed near the wings, which suggests that their is little help that the aircraft can expect of the canards. But this configuration helps the Rafale be a beautiful handler. It would be great for low altitude fast flying. At fast speeds, this configuration will offer least resistance and allow it to reach Mach 2+ speeds.

The Rafale isn't as radical as the Typhoon. It uses conventional technology in its airframe. Everything about it is tried and tested. And it wouldn't be as maneuverable as Typhoon. In fact, Typhoon would be miles above Rafale when it comes to maneuverability.

The intakes on the Rafale are also conventional. They look cool but there isn't anything revolutionary about it. It isn't a bad thing, but the Typhoon takes the cake here too.


The Typhoon’s twin EJ200 engines each produce about 13,500 pounds of dry thrust (and more than 20,000 pounds in full afterburner), which bequeath the aircraft with a higher thrust-to-weight ratio at high subsonic speed (at low altitude) than any of its competitors, save the F-16 (without conformal fuel tanks).

Why couldn't Dassault put in a bigger engine? Maybe because it didn't need it. The current engines on the Rafale are fine, BUT when compared to the latest 4.5 gen aircraft, the thrust does seem to be on the lower side. The Snecma M88-2 engines with 50 KN dry thrust and 75 KN thrust with afterburners are high efficiency engines but with lower thrust. Dassault has promised to replace the engines with high thrust engines, but since its not here yet, we shouldn't consider them

The Typhoon again wins the round hands down.


The Typhoon has a CAPTOR radar, which is a mechanically steered Pulse Doppler radar. Now most of the people who know something about radars would know that this is an old technology. In fact technology wise, these type of radars are two generation behind the AESAs and one generation behind the PESAs. But what Eurofighter has done is that they have tweaked it, increased the size of the antenna and that has increased its performance by a lot. It can detect aircraft sized targets at ranges up to 160 kms. But since its a MSA radar, it also has a few disadvantages. It can not scan many targets at a time, and it can be jammed. It has the ability to interleave, this I think I will discuss sometime later.

The Rafale on the other hand scores nicely here. Its RBE2 radar is a PESA radar which is a good thing. But the size of the nose of Rafale restricts the radar sizes which makes the radar detect aircraft sized targets at a range of 140-150 kms. The radar gets beaten by the Typhoon in range, but it does make up for it in technology. The radar is completely automated. When in interceptor mode, it automatically selects high, medium or low pulse repetition frequencies for best reception. The radar will soon be replaced by an AESA variant, which would have a range of 160-170 kms and would be very advanced, the same can not be said about Typhoon. An AESA variant is planned for Typhoon also but recent reports suggest that it may not be shipped on Tranche 3, but could be available as an upgrade.

The radar is a tie here. Both are good radars, nothing groundbreaking about them.

Typhoon “compensates” for the current lack of an operational AESA radar with a superb IRST system possibly the world’s best—called the Passive Infra-Red Airborne Tracking Equipment (PIRATE).
The PIRATE system is capable of detecting targets at distances approaching that of conventional radars. It combines a long-range IRST sensor operating in the long-wave infrared band with a FLIR thermal imager that is capable of passively searching, tracking and designating targets for weapons launch. All system data is seamlessly integrated with the information collected by other sensors to provide the pilot with a unified track for each target.

The Typhoon’s DAS, called the Defensive Aids Sub-System (DASS), also contributes to enhancing the pilot’s overall situational awareness. Incorporating a wideband RWR and ESM system (which provides 360 degree coverage and can locate adversary emitters with angular accuracies of less than a degree), a
MAWS, a self-protection jammer, and ARTDs in addition to the usual cha ff and flares, the Typhoon’s DAS completes the incredible tactical information suite that provides its pilot with usable, correlated data about the threats facing the aircraft. The principal weakness of this system currently is the lack of a DRFM-based jammer, but the Euro fighter consortium expects to incorporate this capability in the future.


The Eurofighter Typhoon has implemented several features to reduce the frontal rcs of the aircraft. But mind you, its just the frontal rcs that is reduced. From the side, the rcs is comparable to other modern aircraft. The frontal rcs should be a 0.5-1 sq meter. A lot of people expect it to be 0.1, which is almost impossible and more of a net rumor.

The rcs would be reduced further if an AESA is employed.

The Rafale on the other hand has a higher rcs due to less composites used. The shape of the airframe is another problem. It should have a much higher rcs from sides too. The rcs of Rafale should be around 1.5-2 sq meter.


This is a very important aspect of a fighter aircraft. And both the Eurocanards have recently employed new missiles.

The Typhoon’s weapons suite potentially brings new capabilities to the IAF as well. The aircraft can deploy the U.S. AIM-9L Sidewinder, the longer-ranged ASRAAM (which utilizes an IIR seeker originally developed by Hughes but is otherwise a British weapon), and the multinational IRIS-T for the WVR
air combat role. For the BVR mission, the Typhoon carries the U.S. AIM-120 AMRAAM, possibly the best all-round active radar missile operational in the world. The even longer ranged MBDA Meteor would
supplement the AMRAAM once it becomes operational. It is not certain that the ASRAAM and the Meteor would be available to India, however.

In the air-to-ground role, the Typhoon will carry all modern precision munitions ranging from laser-guided bombs to various kinds of cruise missiles and SEAD weapons. Just like the Rafale and the Gripen, the
Typhoon carries a wide variety of munitions manufactured by various countries. However, this could create a problem, in that not all systems capable of being carried by the aircraft would be available to India because of export restrictions. Unfortunately, this is more frequently the case with the best weapons

Although the exported version of the Rafale will not bring all the weapons supported in French employ, it will bring at least two superb but extremely expensive AAMs that India does not currently possess: the MICA-IR, with its IIR seeker, and the MICA-AR, with its active radar sensor. When employed with a helmet-mounted sight, the MICA-IR provides the Rafale with high o ff-boresight and lock-on after launch capabilities, and while the MICA-AR is not the longest-range BVR active radar missile on the market, it has exceptional
maneuverability and electronic counter-countermeasures capability. Although the Rafale will eventually employ the longer-range active radar BVR missile, the Meteor, it is uncertain whether this weapon would be exported to India.

With the Damocles targeting pod, the Rafale will be able to deliver a variety of laser-guided bombs, and it will carry other precision strike weapons such as the Apache-AP and the SCALP-EG as well, though, again, it is not clear whether some of these systems will be exported to India. In the surface strike role, the Rafale has clear advantages: it is designed for high speed, low level attack operations, is capable of terrain following, and has a world-class integrated EW suite that provides both enhanced protection and attack capabilities. Irrespective of what weapons the Rafale carries, the versatility of its avionics system is remarkable. It permits the pilot to shift e ffortlessly from air-to-air to air-to-ground missions during a single sortie, while o ffering easy management of information, great situational awareness, and multi-target engagement capability in an airframe characterized by superb handling.

Many people believe that Typhoon isn't a very capable Air-ground platform, but this isn't true. Typhoons are perfectly capable of taking out any ground mission. The problem is with training of pilots. The number of pilots flying Typhoon are very low, and they have not been trained for ground missions. Only a minority of pilots are capable of it as of now.

Something that deserves a mention here is the SPECTRA system on Rafale. It is a software system that increases the chances of survival for the aircraft but automating most of the tasks. It allows seamless integration and communication with other aircraft and ground assets. The Spectra electronic countermeasures system is fully internal and provides radar warning receiver (RWR), active jamming, infrared missile approach warning, laser detection and chaff/flare. Data from Spectra is also "data fused" and fed into the pilot's tactical display. Additionally, the system can be rapidly reprogrammed by frontline ground technicians, as demonstrated operationally in AfghanistanTyphoon also has a capable EW suite but SPECTRA is believed to be a bit better.

So this round is another tie.


As is to be expected from the foregoing discussion, the Typhoon displays excellent aerodynamic effectiveness. But this judgment must be qualified when comparing it to its peers not because it is deficient in any particular way but because its competitors are for most part superb dog  fighting platforms as well.

Where sustained turn rate, for example, is concerned, the Typhoon is superior to the MiG-35 and the Rafale, but yet cannot match the Gripen, which beats it and all other aircraft irrespective of altitude. The Typhoon also turns somewhat slower than the F-16IN (without conformal tanks) and the F/A-18E/F at most representative altitudes. The Typhoon’s instantaneous turn performance is far better than the MiG-35 and the Gripen and comparable to the F-16IN (without conformal tanks) and F/A-18E/F at all altitudes, but inferior to the Rafale the closer both aircraft are to sea level. Typhoon’s bleed rates are high, comparable to the Rafale and the F/A-18E/F at all altitudes, but inferior to the Gripen and the F-16IN (even when the latter flies with its conformal fuel tanks).

On balance, then, while the Typhoon is an agile aircraft, it is aerodynamically comparable to the Rafale and the MiG-35, but is not as nimble as the Gripen, with the F-16IN (without its conformal fuel tanks) and the F/A-18E/F falling somewhere in the middle. Pilot quality will, therefore, be critical for success in most air-to-air encounters with these airplanes, though the quality of sensor fusion in the Typhoon will certainly make its occupant’s
life easier in the stressful circumstances of air combat. Typhoon has a high top-end speed, putting it in the same league with the MiG-35 and the F-16IN. Lastly, the Typhoon’s performance characteristics will certainly permit it to undertake all the theater-level missions to which it may be committed within South Asia, though it will almost certainly require, at the very least, external tanks for the anti-surface mission.

The foregoing advantages of the Typhoon, however, come with two significant liabilities where the MMRCA competition is concerned. The  first challenge will be manifested in the arena of technology transfer. Although many European diplomats have blithely asserted that transferring high-end aviation technology to India “will not be a problem,” such claims must be taken with a pinch of salt. Because the Typhoon is produced by a four-
country consortium, each with di erent strengths, different political interests and different responsibilities, securing agreement on an extensive technology transfer package to India will be more difficult than the casual commentary sometimes suggests.

This remains true despite the fact that Germany is the lead country responsible for the Euro fighter Consortium’s India campaign. If the Typhoon wins the MMRCA competition, it is likely that the aircraft o ffered to India will be taken from the Luftwaffe’s planned acquisition in much the same way that the 72 aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia came from the Royal Air Force’s allotment.

Yet getting all four countries involved in the Typhoon’s development to agree on a transfer of technology package to India—especially since New Delhi’s requirement is far more ambitious than anything the Saudis demanded—will prove to be challenging.

Eurofighter consortium will have little di fficulty agreeing to the co-production of the Typhoon in India. Indeed, it has already done so in Saudi Arabia. However, at a time when Europe is struggling with global competition from the United States, Russia, and now even China, there is cause to doubt that it will agree to share its expertise in sensor fusion, flight control systems, and advanced weaponry. Whether the consortium will be able to satisfy
India’s direct o sets demands is also unclear. It is easy to imagine the four nations involved enthusiastically agreeing to indirect offsets, if those were required; reaching a consensus on direct o ffsets will prove more di difficult, particularly in light of the aircraft’s high unit flyaway costs.

The second challenge facing the Typhoon is exactly the one just referred to:Price. The Typhoon remains the most expensive aircraft in the MMRCA competition, coming in at close to $125 million a copy. Whether the IAF can actually afford the Typhoon—even if the aircraft remains its   first preference—then becomes a critical question because a purchase of such magnitude could upend the service’s budget at a time when critical questions about technology transfer still remain unanswered.

For all its impressive qualities, the Rafale is a likely to be an extraordinarily expensive aircraft,costing somewhere in the region of $85 million a copy, second only to the Eurofighter. The continual upgrades that Dassault has proposed to bring the aircraft up to F3+ standards has, therefore, perplexed many industry observers because the smaller French aircraft production runs already raise unit costs considerably above their foreign counterparts. This ends up making the Rafale costly to begin with, which partly explains why it has lost out in every foreign competition thus far. Attempting to compensate for this outcome by incorporating more sophisticated technology ends up making the airplane even more expensive, especially compared with other twin-engine  fighters that provide comparable capability at lesser cost. European industry sources also emphasize the Rafale’s high maintenance requirements, which are
certain to add significantly to its life cycle costs.

Given this fact, Dassault will have to sweeten the pot in the MMRCA competition by offering a highly attractive technology transfer package to India. Whether the company can actually transfer its most precious capabilities, for example, in radar, IRST, sensor fusion, long-range weaponry,and engines, does not require any guesses. India’s experience with the Mirage 2000 has shown that, while the French have been very good in providing spares and support for their aircraft,even aircraft maintenance has yielded little by way of true transfers of either knowledge or expertise. It is also unclear whether Dassault will be able to meet the ambitious o ffsets requirements in the MMRCA competition, in part because the Indian Mirage 2000 upgrade
program—the most obvious candidate for satisfying these considerations—will be concluded long before the winning MMRCA platform is selected. In any event, the incredible costs of the Mirage 2000 upgrade program—believed to now run at more than $35 million per aircraft—only highlights
the traditional weakness of French combat aviation, namely its atrociously high prices that produce a poor cost-to-value ratio.

If you have to sum-up the Typhoon is slightly better than Rafale. If a good AESA radar is added to its arsenal it will be one of the best fighter aircraft but the spectre of dealing with 4 different countries about various technologies is not only difficult but messy. On the bright side whichever aircraft India chooses we will get a damn good fighter plane.(My vote is with Typhoon)