Monday, 2 May 2011

MMRCA Rumors Reasons Rejection

Industry insiders have reported that Europeans willingness to transfer technology has most likely helped them emerge as the short-listed rivals for India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program, Some US companies concede that the Indian Air Force's technical requirements were the deciding factor.
The Indian government did not explain why it ruled out the Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen, the Russian MiG-35, and two U.S.-built jets, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, from the $10 billion, 126-aircraft program. Instead, the news was passed April 27 to the jet-makers' national governments, irking at least some U.S. industry players.

"The way the decision was made and announced has only made things worse: They knew full well the importance the administration attached to this sale. A quiet intimation of the coming decision would have helped considerably. It was really unfortunate that this was not done," said Ashley Tellis, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

A Indian Defence Ministry source said the decision was based on technical evaluations and flight tests, not political considerations or influence. Defence Minister A.K. Antony insisted that the selection be based on merit alone, the source said.

Several analysts said that while the U.S. had allowed its jet makers to offer unprecedented access to technology, European contenders probably pledged more.

"The most likely explanation is that the Europeans wanted and needed it more. They were willing to bend over backwards in terms of technology transfer, in terms of industrial work share and in terms of other regulatory issues, and they really needed this," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va. "For the U.S. contractors, it would have been gravy, but for the Europeans, it's survival through the end of the decade."

Tellis said the choice merely reflected the Indian Air Force's (IAF) technical preferences."The down-select decision clearly represents the IAF's choice, which the MoD has obviously gone along with as expected," he said.

One senior U.S. administration official agreed."I wouldn't see the technology release issue as the clincher," he said. "This was a judgment made on the basis of the technical qualification requirements that the Indian Air Force had established as part of the procurement."

He said the two U.S. aircraft had failed to meet certain Indian technical criteria."India would have been well-served to take a more comprehensive look at the transaction," he said.

But the official also conceded there were certain technologies that the U.S. simply would not share. "We have a defense licensing system which is consistent with the law of the land, and there are certain technologies we're simply not going to hand over. That's just a fact of life," he said.

One U.S. industry official noted that Indian officials had publicly asserted that viable contenders would have an operational active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, something only the F/A-18/E/F and F-16IN possess. The European contenders are developing AESA arrays.

"Yet, it seems that the IAF and MoD made the decision based on strategic, political grounds, not technical merits," the official said.

Several analysts said India has not forgotten that the U.S. imposed sanctions on the country after a 1990s nuclear test, nor that Washington is working to bolster ties with arch-enemy Pakistan.

Bhim Singh, an analyst and retired IAF wing commander, predicted that the rejection of Boeing and Lockheed Martin wouldn't hurt bilateral defense ties.

But Tellis said there would be repercussions."I think the Obama administration will be deeply disappointed with this decision - as will the Congress. I think U.S.-India defense relations have been in trouble for a while. I suspect this will make things more difficult," he said.