Eurofighter and Rafale, the two finalists in the fray for India’s big combat jet order, have extended their dogfight to the UAE to win another commercial tender.
So far, only the French Dassualt’s Rafale appeared to be in the bidding for an order for 60 aircraft for the UAE Air Force but a spokesman for EADS Cassidian, the four-nation consortium which makes the aircraft, confirmed that the company had received a formal Request for Proposal (RfP) a few weeks back and that ‘we are working hard to deliver a response’.
Who else has been invited is not known but sources in Lockheed Martin told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) that the company was in discussions here ‘to supply additional aircraft.’ It is not clear if these ‘additional’ cover a few more, or are the replacement for 60 Mirages that the UAE wants to phase out.
Boeing has also made presentations to the UAE on its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15E Strike Eagle, but again, there are no firm indications on whether the RfP has been sent to Boeing also.
Notably, Rafale had completed all the mandatory flight tests and discussions were on only to fix the price. But on Nov 16, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, said at the Dubai Airshow that Dassault’s proposal was ‘uncompetitive and unworkable’.
The French company declined comment.
A Eurofighter spokesman, though, confirmed that Britain, one of the partners in the project, had made a presentation to the UAE Air Force on October 17 and after that, the RfP was issued to EADS Cassidian, the four-nation consortium that includes Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.
It may be recalled that the UAE had purchased 80 F-16 Desert Falcons from Lockheed Martin configured with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) and other combat radars in 2000. All of them, designated Block 60 due to specific and exclusive UAE requirements and which cost nearly 25 to 30 percent more than the US Air Force’sown F 16s, were delivered beginning 2004 for about $8.5 billion.
The UAE had also ordered the Mirage 2000, again configured to its specific requirements and designated Mirage 2000-9, from Dassault in 1998. An older lot was also converted to the new Dash-9 standards with new avionics, combat radars and laser pods. Overall, there are around 60 Mirage aircraft, equipped with MBDA’s Black Shaheen subsonic cruise missiles and advanced weapons. Dassault is supposed to buy these back under its RfP terms, and do whatever — keep them or sell them.
Sources here told this writer that informal discussions on selling the Mirage 2000-9s have been held ‘at the diplomatic level with India’ but that there has been no interest from New Delhi. Details were not given.
The UAE’s F-16 Block 60 is the most advanced F-16 version and Lockheed Martin brought these to India for flight demonstrations for the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition.
Of the six aircraft origianlly in the fray, the IAF has shortlisted only the Eurofighter and Rafale, and a decision on the choice is likely to be announced by the defence ministry, which is now considering the financial demands for the deal from the two companies.
What happens in the UAE should have no bearing on the Indian MMRCA competition as IAF has already selected only Rafale and Eurofighter, disqualifying four others on the basis of number of points scored in flight and weapon tests. The former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, who had announced the decision on shortlisting, observed though that ‘all the competing aircraft (the US F-16 and F-18, the Swedish Gripen and the Russian Mig 35) were good’.
The UAE’s decision to seek new bids, however, has two implications: That its own selection process has to start afresh, and that the winner in the Indian competition will have to fine-tune its offer in the final negotiations but after the selection.
(Gulshan Luthra is senior defence analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)