Breaking: "The Dassault Rafale has won the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft tender"

Jan 31 2012 - 14 Comments

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.

  • Hawkeye

    Hi David,

    when you say “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.” i would reind you that with the Meteor (which is claimed to be on Rafale in a couple of years, when the update of the radar will be made) , it will have the same air-to-air capabilities than the EF.

    Besides that, of course it’s great news for Dassault, but here in France, we are a bit disappointed because 108 of the 126 Rafale will be build in India. So french workers will not be as busy as the Indian ones… French defence minister has said few weeks ago that if there is no contract for the Rafale, the rythm of Rafale’s build will be very reduced, and maybe stopped sooner. With this contract, not sure the French Dassault facilities will take a breath towards that…

    • Hi Hawkeye,
      I’ve obviously mentioned current capabilities. We could say the same thing for the Typhoon in the air-to-air role (what if they will give it thrust vectoring) or in the air-to-surface role: when (and if) further developed, it will probably match the Rafale.
      However I’ve only commented on the current very well known capabilities.

      At least, I’m sure the news will give Sarkozi a boost in the next presidential elections. It’s also his victory.

      • mridul singh

        hiiii david
        i am indian,i am very happy, that this deal goes to france, bt i want to know from u that which one is best eurofighter or dassault Rafael

    • Hawkeye,
      While it is true that IAF would acquire 18 of these beauties off the shelf, while the rest would be assembled in India itself as part of ToT, you must also take into account the boost to Rafale’s reputation now that it has been declared as the much deserved winner of MMRCA.
      Any subsequent programs, including the ones in UAE, Brazil etc, and possibly Qatar, Kuwait that Rafale is competing in will give the Rafale an advantge. As they are not likely to acquire these aircrafts in large numbers that would warrant setting up a local assembly line in their own country, these birds Dassault supplies would be assembled within France itself. Advantage France.

  • Doesn’t the Rafale lack a HMS?

  • Hawkeye

    With the future indian aircraft carrier, why not adding some Rafale M in few years? It would be easy to train pilot if they are already on Rafale of their Air Force…

    PS: David, Dassault has offered a discount price for some Swiss Rafale…

  • Anon

    Let’s say that the capabilities are closely matched. The big difference is going to be mission availability and service time. From all the reports I have seen so far, it looks like Rafale’s is a few times better than the EF. That creates a huge difference. Next, Snecma M88 is a more reliable (although less powered) engine than EF. I think India made a good choice.


    Post 18-flyoff is a shared production scenario. ‘IF’ all goes well (there is a good chance it will), the Assembly line would be in India. But France would still be supplying sub-assemblies, kits, components, sensors and electronics etc. What happens with the engine is something to watch.

  • Yawn


    While we may have disagreed on the Rafale/EF comparison, I have only one thing to say. A major, if not decisive chunk of the blame for this lose should go for the Eurofighter’s primary member states. They have showed little initiative in pushing to speed up weapons integration or radar updates on the product and have instead shamelessly peddled it to countries like India, South Korea and Japan by making them “join the programme”. You really can’t expect countries to be swayed by that logic when there are cheaper alternatives on offer with fully integrated weapons.

    The French should be applauded in that they had funded most of the Rafale’s upgrades despite the exorbitant costs; the export variant on offer now is the same as that will enter serice with the AdA in 2013-14.

    To get to my point, the EF is a great aircraft let down by lousy users.

  • Suresh

    For india french are a relaible ally, the us, uk other euro nations imposed sanctions and french sided with india,the fre nch mirage was equally good, the scorpene sub deal,the viking engine, mica missile,any deal they are trustworthy, so the rafale with full tot and future aircraft plans go well with france, us and uk are still reluctant with the tot transfer,

  • roger

    Actually, the Rafale has better air to air capabilities,as proven over several meetings between the two aircraft in simulated combat scenarios, e.g. at Solenzara,Corsica in 2007 and the UAE airshow in 2009 ( I remember correctly), and other tactical meetings between the RAF and the French Air Force.
    And at every technical comparison made by other countries where both aircrafts were competing for sales around the world.
    As for Cameron, saying that the Typhoon is a better aircraft, this man knows nothing about aircraft at all, he can`t even run this country of ours properly. Sorry about bringing politics in to this discussion but he knows nothing at all about war-planes. We may not like to admit it! but the Rafale is by far better, and it has proven itself in actual combat.
    Regrettably it isn`t British. You just have to congratulate the French on making a bloody good combat jet. I`m sorry if you don`t agree with me, but the truth always hurts.

    • Suresh

      All right, the rafale quoted 22% less than typhoon, and to maintain the typhoon the costs are higher, rafale offered full tot, but ef only 75%, and in the high altitudes of himalayas dassault can be trusted and the mirage proved it in kargil war, from jaguar sales india learnt bitter experiences, and lastly sarkozy is favorite to the indians

  • David, do you know if the French are going to supply the India version with a fully capable Spectre suite ? I read about its impressive ECM and ECCM capabilitites. I think its symbol on the airframe uses a version of the Ghostbusters movie icon. I think if the French are supplying a fully functional suite then this was probably a major factor in the win. I have not read anything about this aspect in the news accounts regarding the French contract victory.

    • roger

      Yes, they will get the full spectrum of capabilities that Spectrum offers. Basically they`ll get whatever they want on their version of Rafale. As I have read in the French Air Forces news magazine.