Breaking: “The Dassault Rafale has won the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft”

Although it must still be confirmed, it looks like the Dassault Rafale will be the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, a contract worth about $10 billion USD (“the biggest fighter aircraft deal since the early 1990s”) for +126 planes.

According to the Stratpost article published on Jan. 31, baked by tweet by ReutersAero, the French plane

beat the four-nation consortium’s Eurofighter on price, with the fighter being identified as L1, or the lowest technically qualified bid.”

The Rafale will boost an already varied fleet that can count on 51 Mirage 2000s, 63 Mig-29s and the first 140 Sukhoi Su-30MKI of the 272 that the Indian Air Force expects to operate by 2020. Beginning next year, the IAF will also get the first batch of 120 indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, without considering all the obsolete types still in service or pending phase-out (Mig-21, Mig-27 and Jaguar) and the expected procurement of more than 210 stealthy fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

The announcement (preceded by a series of opposite claims) came at the end of a fierce contest with the Typhoon that saw the two combat planes continuously under the spotlight since they were shortlisted in India: Aero India 2011, Le Bourget, Royal International Air Tattoo, Sion Breitling airshow are only some of the public events which featured the European fighters’ air displays, press briefings, war stories, etc. during 2011.

There are many reasons to believe that also the air war in Libya was used for marketing purposes as it represented an interesting opportunity (because of the low-lethality scenario) to test new configurations and get some media attention, that could be useful not only to win the MMRCA tender but to get orders also in Brazil, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bulgaria, Greece, Switzerland and….in Libya, where a deal for 14 Rafales was almost closed in 2008 with Gaddafi and there will be the need to re-equip the Free Libya Air Force in the future. I think we should not forget that, at the end of March 2011, before the Typhoon and Rafale were shortlisted, (incidentally?) all the five contenders of the MMRCA competition were deployed in the Mediterranean Sea and were taking part to the then Operation Odyssey Dawn.

Although both planes are closely matched, I’ve often explained on this blog that whereas the Typhoon offers superior air-to-air capabilities, the Rafale is truly multi-role and better in the air-to-surface role.

That’s what I wrote in my Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 81-104) on Jul 1, 2011:

The “omnirole” Rafale can claim to have been the first aircraft to enter to Libyan airspace on Mar. 19 (even though I’ve already explained this happened in the Benghazi area where the risk of SAM and AAA fire was low) thanks to the Spectra integrated defensive aids suite developed by Thales. For sure although it can’t be considered as multirole as to be capable to perform a typical SEAD strike as an F-16CJ or a Tornado ECR, the French plane has the possibility to combine its sensors (such as the Spectra) and the AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire – Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon) PGM to identify, designate and hit ground targets. Furthermore, during Unified Protector, the AASM demonstrated to be effective against a tank at a range of 57 km.

The Rafale will also be the first European combat plane to use an electronic scanning radar; with “Tranche 4”, expected to be handed over from 2013, the 60 French upgraded Rafales will carry an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) RBE2 radar (compatible with long range METEOR air-to-air missiles) whose beam can be pointed from one area to another one quickly, in all weather and in a jammed environment, and that can be used in air-to-air and air-to-ground modes at the same time, with an enhanced detection capability.

So, who’s gonna win in India? Difficult to say. Surely, Rafale is a more mature plane, capable of performing a wide variety of missions, from SEAD(-lite) to reconnaissance, and it is already available in navalised version for aircraft carrier ops.  However, Eurofighter already has export customers that Rafale lacks [UAE sale should be closer now NdA], and it has an attractive user community that could give stronger strategic ties with 4 European nations.

Furthermore, the Typhoon has a more powerful engine, a better BVR capability and is able to pull max G-load while launcing its weapons and carrying three external fuel tanks. It has also an extensive air-to-air missile load and can perform supersonic launching while supercruising with a large missile load. The Typhoon has a very lightweight operational bifocal Helmet Mounted Display, which in combination with the IRIS-T or ASRAAM High Off Boresight Missiles provides the F-2000 with superior dogfight capabilities. So, it’s a lethal weapon in the air-to-air scenario, and it has a potential still to be developed to become a real multirole. Finally, Eurofighter is working on a navalised Typhoon too….

The MMRCA was extremely important for Dassault, as one of the last chances (if not the last) to get an export order for the Rafale. If confirmed, the win in India could open new markets to the omnirole French plane.

Photo by Alessandro Fucito.

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About David Cenciotti 3635 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.