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.

Tank Biathlon, Typhoon, and the Vicissitudes of DIY Procurement

India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine, the Arihant, launched in 2009, has brought its reactor online and is to start sea trials. It may seem a long time to wait, but such is the way of India’s defence programs. Arihant itself is likely to be a stepping stone to more advanced designs. It is designed with strategic functions in mind, with twelve intermediate range ballistic missile tubes. The K4 SLBM is slated for testing. While they wait, India is reportedly negotiating to lease a second Russian Akula II class attack submarine.

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Meanwhile, more delays are likely to hit Vikrant, India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier. With an estimated in-service date already pushed back by four years to 2018, navy sources now say that it will not have completed sea trials until 2020. While it is planned to launch August 12th, Vikrant as yet has none of its propulsion systems installed, and piping will be laid while the carrier is tied alongside.

Vikramaditya

Vikramaditya

These delays are partially attributed to the difficulty of procuring needed parts from abroad and the five-year delay and vast cost overruns experienced with the Vikramaditya, the rebuilt Russian carrier formerly named Admiral Gorshkov. India plans to build up to two more carriers of a larger design. All future Indian carriers will carry the MiG-29K Fulcrum, and notionally a naval variant of the HAL Tejas. The latter is a small, locally-developed fighter, which took over two decades to achieve operational capability.

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There are a number of fighter competitions coming up in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain has expressed an early preference for the Eurofighter, citing the advantages of standardising with Saudi Arabia, which is in the process of taking delivery. As further competitions develop in Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar, it will be interesting to see whether that idea gains ground. If so, it would be a major boon to a beleaguered program. Negotiations are in progress for a 60-aircraft order for the UAE, while Saudi Arabia, the ultimate splurger of the region, may buy between 48 and 72 additional aircraft.

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Russia has invented a new “sporting event”- the tank biathlon– and has got agreements from the United States, Germany, Italy and a few eastern states to send teams. While not substantively different than other standing tank competition, the East-West dynamic does add an element of interest. Oddly, the announced purpose of the games is to showcase the quality of Russian equipment against its Western equivalents, and yet the Russians are to limit themselves to Cold War vintage T-72s.

Meanwhile, Russia is set to take delivery of its first T-50 stealth fighter, which will start military flight testing before the end of the year, with operational status anticipated in 2016.