Thursday, 2 February 2012

MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft)

The Government of India is seeking to induct 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) to fill the gap between the Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas still undergoing trials) and the Sukhoi-30 fighters in the Indian Airforce. It will replace ageing aircraft as well as augment the squadron strength which is estimated to stand at 32-33, much below the desired target of 39.5. The induction of the MMRCA will also bring in the required firepower to tackle China and Pakistan.4

After an almost decade-long process, the Ministry of Defence selected the Rafale fighter aircraft of the French Dassault Company, in January 2012. The Ministry has allocated about 12 billlion USD for the purchase of these aircraft, making it India's single largest defence deal.1

Although GoI is stating that the selection has been made purely on technical and cost grounds, the decision would have some strategic impact. “For India, the Rafale acquisition widens its strategic options in a world where multi-polarity is a fact of life. It could provide the leverage for India to hold France to its promise of increasing cooperation across a whole range of areas. Of particular interest, is the enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment transfers.  This acquires importance in light of the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group ban on sale of ENR items to India, where France said that it would not be bound by the new restrictions”.7 Another area to receive a fillip could be intelligence sharing, and joint observation of the Indian Ocean. Increased cooperation between India and France may also help India to spread its influence in western Africa, which is known as France’s backyard.8

Nonetheless India is behind China in air-capability. The MMRCA are fourth generation fighter jets, whereas China is preparing to induct its fifth generation indigenous stealth fighter Chengdu J-2o in 2017. It would take almost four years for the first aircraft to arrive after the deal is inked, so by the time India gets its fourth generation aircraft in 2016, the Chinese will be ready to induct their fifth generation aircraft. To keep pace on this, India and Russia signed a preliminary design contract to jointly develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft in December 2010. However the fear remains that this project will be subject to the huge delays that have dogged joint ventures with Russia. 3

Note: A squadron comprises around 18 to 20 aircraft.5

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