Fighter Procurement News- India, Netherlands

India’s much-heralded purchase of the Dassault Rafale fighter, critical for closing a yawning gap in India’s force structure left by the retirement of MiG-21s and other older aircraft, is moving forward at a snail’s pace, as India contemplates an expensive integration of Russian missiles for the platform. Never mind that India has a large enough air force to comfortably use two sets of ordinance (as they already do with their Mirage fleet), or that having two ordinance sets provides a nice insurance against flaws in any one system, integration of new weapons and the consequent delay in procuring the fighters could well cost more than maintaining two sets of ordinance.

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The Dutch government, in a stroke of illogic that beggars belief, has decided to purchase only 37 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters over the next five years, while selling their new naval support ships. The expensive F-35 was always going to cripple Dutch force structure and defence procurement, but it seems the government is trying to mitigate the damage by purchasing a force so small as to be useless for anything beyond domestic air defence, a role for which the F-35 is hardly the optimal aircraft. There is a word that a government wanting to preserve capabilities while cutting costs should be strongly urged to consider: Gripen.

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Speaking of which, an interesting piece on the possibilities of the Gripen for Canada can be found here, and a more formal one from the Ottawa Citizen here. The Gripen in its new NG version is a real balm to the ills of modern fighters. It is not only reasonably priced, but has a low cost of ownership, a complete array of integrated weapons (a big problem with other platforms including Eurofighter and F-35), high speed (unlike the Super Hornet and the F-35), great manoeuvrability (the F-35’s dogfighting ability has frequently been questioned), up-to-date electronics… It is neither a demigod of aerial combat like the Eurofighter nor a full stealth aircraft like the F-35, but neither is it far behind in those areas, and if the RCAF can buy two Gripens to an F-35 with a guarantee that maintenance costs won’t leach money from other important capital programs (of which the RCAF has several), it would be more than worth it.

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In other news, the crisis in Syria has seen a prolonged congregation of Russian, American and NATO ships in the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. A map of the ships from earlier this month.

About time, and may the most cost-effective and air-to-air capable platform (the Canadian Government still maintains the pretence that airspace protection is the primary mission, rather than bombing small countries) win. That isn’t the F-35, but it is hard to choose among the others. The Gripen is an economical platform in every respect, designed for cold weather and very capable. The Typhoon is probably the best air-to-air platform in the West short of the F-22, and investment by Canada could bring a lot of long-planned upgrades, including AESA radar, for which Europe would thank us. Rafale is a good all-round platform but problematic in terms of weapons compatibility. The Super Hornet is an aerodynamically dated airframe but with excellent electronics and support, is relatively cheap and reliable, and offers the possibility of conversion to the electronic warfare “Growler” version, a very enticing capability as Australia has discovered. If the contract is fought with an eye toward industrial offsets, France and Sweden have both proven willing to go that route, and it will unfortunately be likely to rule out the Eurofighter, whose procurement process is already ridiculously complex.