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By Bulbul Singh

02 Jun 10. The Indian Defence Ministry floated a global Request for Proposal worth $10 billion, in August 2007 for the acquisition of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

In the MMRCA competition, SAAB fielded the Gripen NG for trials after the Indian defence ministry refused to accept trials of the Gripen D aircraft, which was earlier proposed. The project has now entered the evaluation stage.

For the winter trials, SAAB sent two Gripen D instead of Gripen NG which the defence ministry refused. The Gripen NG now being offered for MMRCA was not available for the winter trials in March – April while all the other vendors had fielded their aircraft for the trials.
The defence ministry agreed to the SAAB request after which the Swedish company hurried to send the Grippen NG for trials at Leh. The other competitors are F-18, F-16, Rafale, MiG 35 and Typhoon.

The aircraft have to go through three layers of trials and the results of the trials are expected by the year end.

The field evaluation will consist of flight trials, ground tests and technology transfer assessment. During the flight evaluation, data will be collected on the aircraft, along with evaluations of the aircraft on the ground. The aircraft will have to be demonstrated in the air and on the ground to satisfy the tender requirements. In addition, the Electronic Warfare systems will have to be demonstrated in the air and on the ground.

The test flights will be carried out by the Indian Air Force Air Services Testing Establishment (ASTE) and a crew of over 30 will be involved in the flight trial evaluation process. However, there will be other teams who will cross check the flight trials to reduce human error during the actual trials. However, radar and armament trials will be carried out in the respective vendor country.

The Gripen being offered is a single-engine fourth generation fighter and Saab has promised Technology Transfer for the AESA radar. However, sources in the Indian defence ministry said that transfer of technology of U.S. equipment fitted on the Gripen could be difficult to get as the F-16 and F-18 are also keen competitors.

Sources in the Indian Air Force said,”Since the RFP was floated in 2007 the threat perception has increased from China, thus the endeavor would be to buy an aircraft which would be suited to operate from higher reaches against China and Pakistan.”

Under the purchase programme, 18 fighters would be bought off-the-shelf and remaining 108 manufactured under technology transfer in India. The RFP also stipulates an option of India purchasing another 64 fighters under the same terms and conditions. The first batch of 18, which would be supplied in a flyaway condition, is expected to be inducted in IAF by 2014 onwards.

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