Indian Rafale Out, MMRCA Trials by August

Neelam Mathews/New Delhi mathews.neelam@gmail.com

Dassault Aviation's Rafale has been booted from competition for India's 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

This leaves the Boeing F/A-18, Lockheed Martin F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon, RSK MiG-35 and Saab Gripen in the race.

All the contenders were awaiting word from the Indian defense ministry on final dates for field trials, which they hoped would be this summer. Currently, officials seem to still disagree.

Flight trials will be held "anytime between July and August," one defense official told Aviation Week. But another senior official said he did not expect the trials to start before September.

Nevertheless, things are moving fast. Aviation Week had learned recently that the Indian air force completed technical evaluation a few months ago and had submitted its Flight Evaluation report to the ministry.

The air force has already started meeting vendors and has asked them to forward 10 names each as required to do a site survey for security clearance. The vendors also are being asked to give their preferential time for flight evaluation.

In the first phase, the air force will send two teams of three pilots each to be familiarized and trained on vendors' aircraft simulators.

In the second phase, flight trials will be conducted in India on two twin-seater aircraft. In India, a sortie will be made for heat and dust trials in the desert region of Jaisalmer lasting for two or three days, in Bengaluru for tropical conditions for 10-12 days, and in the mountainous region around Leh for a day of high-altitude trials.

It is expected, however, that the flight evaluation trials will be completed by March next year.

The final phase to be conducted in the vendor's country, including flying a single-seater, will showcase weapons, radar and electronic weapons, as well as maintenance evaluation trials.

Rafale proponents previously let known their disappointment that an exhaustive matrix table had been laid out based on a basic minimum performance in the request for proposals, and that there were no bonus points on over-compliance.

Field trials once were expected immediately following the Bengaluru air show in mid-February. But since the dates were not announced, Gripen and Rafale did not bring their aircraft to the air show.

Earlier, many vendors Aviation Week spoke to said they hoped the down-select would be made before the trials to enable them to be completed this year. Some indicated since the cost of holding the trials exceeded $20 million, it would help in conserving cash in this global economic recession.

Photo credit: Dassault

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