One is not very enthused when one goes through a copy of the recent RFI issued by Vayu Bhawan for some 110 new fighters for the IAF. Seventy three pages of pilot’s notes, vague questions and a lack of connectedness. Coming from one of the experienced Air Forces in the world, this does not impress.
1) First is the style. Clearly some of the questions are merely to fill space. The location of a parking brake or the resistance of some transparent material to solar radiation are hardly the questions that need to be asked in this century, from vendors of the calibre of – in alphabetical order – Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, RAC-MIG, Saab. In another case in the performance of a certain system: it is not sufficient to specify 45°C because 45°C, 45°C, 50% RH and 45°C, 50% RH 100mts alt, 450kts LLXC will give different answers.
2) You also feel that a certain assertive style of writing would have shortened the document considerably. If we are in the market for 110 fighters, we can be more firm about, for instance the technical life of the airframe should be at least 4000 hours for single-engine airframes and 7000 hours for twin-engine types. Why the two different figures for life ? Perhaps, for one reason or the other, the single-engine type won’t last much longer than that in low level fighter missions ?
3) Style is subjective, but it is a matter of concern when an endurance, with flight refueling, of ten hours is being called for with night-capable FR ! If all this capability came for free and with no penalty in terms of performance then one could let that pass but otherwise this is serious outrage. What kind of mission are we having in mind when we are asking for this capability ? Has that been requested/approved by the cabinet ? Or was it put in to favour a particular type of aircraft? Only the Americans will have the need, specify or have this kind of capability.
4) The second objection is that this RFI for Medium Weight Fighters does not seem to be any different for what would have been for heavy fighters such as the Su-30MKI or the Su-35. It seems illogical that we take the pains to induct three types of fighters – Heavy/MMRCA/Light Weight Fighter – from three different countries, but do not specify mission specific or “optimised for the role’ kind of capabilities for each. All sorties will not demand the same kind of capability and particularly for the light-weight types, the percentage of war load/MTOW load goes down sharply. Therefore equipment levels have to be carefully pared to retain performance and range-payload. We need a large air force, but we cannot have it by ‘Chalta ha’ kind of aircraft configurations.
5) The other idea would be to have a “stripped to essentials” airframe – basic equipment for VFR short range strike against average “95 percentile” targets with ground based/AWACS control – and have fairly comprehensive set of mission packs carrying just the few sensors required for the more exotic missions. The argument is that if an aircraft is carrying any capability that is not required in that mission, is basically a handicap of that mission. The example of Mig-21 used for cratering Tezgaon in 1971 war can be pointed out in this regard. The pilots would have much appreciated if they didn’t have the radar which was never needed but instead had more fuel and two 30mm NR revolver cannon which the MiG-21PF originally had and which were deleted in the FL, and later sorely missed.
(In next part we will discuss Transfer of Technology and what are problems related to that)
(adopted from Vayu Magazine)