Turbulence ahead with Indian jet deal
The Indians, stormed “senior government sources,” had gone for the “Asda option instead of Waitrose”.
By Andrew Gilligan9:30PM GMT 04 Feb 2012
By preferring the French Rafale jet rather than the British-built Typhoon, they rejected, according to the Prime Minister, a “superb aircraft with far better capabilities”.
How dare they, asked MPs, snub Britain, which had given them £1.2 billion in aid? One newspaper even blamed the decision on the Gandhi family.
The truth about Britain’s “failure” to land the £6.3 billion Indian military jet deal — and the thousands of jobs it will sustain - is different. The game is not yet over.
But if we do lose, it will have nothing to do with the Gandhis, or the aid — which, as we report today, the Indians simply do not care about either way. It will be because of our own mistakes.
Senior Indian figures and military aviation experts have told The Sunday Telegraph that British defence cuts played a key part in India’s decision to prefer France for the huge 126-warplane contract. But they said the deal could still be rescued for the UK.
“For David Cameron to say that Typhoon has far better capabilities is embarrassing, and I say that as a strong supporter of the aircraft,” said Jon Lake, defence editor at Arabian Aerospace magazine, and an expert in Asian procurement.
“It would have been true to say that it has better potential than the Rafale, but thanks to the cheeseparing of our Treasury, and the other Typhoon partner nations’ treasuries, that potential has not been realised yet.”
Key to the Indian decision, said one senior defence source in Delhi, was the country’s wish for a radar and set of weapons which already exist on Rafale — but which are not currently present on Typhoon.
The French jet can launch a wide suite of smart weapons including Scalp, an air-launched cruise missile, Exocet, an anti-ship missile, and AASM, a precision-guided bomb with extended “stand-off” capability allowing it to be dropped from further away, reducing the risk to the pilot from anti-aircraft fire.
It also has an advanced reconnaissance pod and the latest electronic scanned array radar. This combination of capabilities proved highly effective in the recent war over Libya.
Typhoon currently has none of these things. The RAF badly wants the aircraft to have Scalp's British equivalent Storm Shadow — along with the anti-tank Brimstone missile, a reconnaissance pod, and the radar.
These capabilities, apart from the radar, are currently available on the RAF’s Tornado jets and were heavily used by the British in Libya. But their arrival on Typhoon has been delayed by defence cuts.
“For the Indians it’s all about credibility,” said Mr Lake. “If they believe what the Typhoon consortium told them, then by 2018 Typhoon will do everything that Rafale does now. But they clearly don’t believe it, and I don’t blame them, given the programme’s history of delays and cost overruns.
“At the moment, Typhoon can drop a laser-guided bomb, and that’s it. The combination of Typhoon and Tornado was quite effective in Libya. But on its own, Typhoon was less versatile than the Rafale.”
Tim Ripley, of Jane’s Defence Weekly, said: “The RAF are desperate for further weapons on the Typhoon but it is something the Treasury have been trying to avoid doing. This is a crucial test of the Government’s export rhetoric. The Indians ask why they should buy this kit for their own aircraft if we won’t put it on ours.”
Typhoon is built by a four-nation consortium of Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. The Indian marketing campaign was led by the Germans, a decision which Mr Lake described as “clearly mad” given India’s historic ties with Britain.
The culture and structure of the Indian Air Force is still heavily influenced by its British origins, with identical ranks and near-identical Air Force blue uniforms.
“The Typhoons they sent to India [for evaluation] were German, flown by German aircrew, but the Germans have a completely different culture,” said Mr Lake.
“It was mindblowingly inept.”
The British Typhoon contractor BAE was later brought in to partner the bid in apparent acknowledgement of the mistake.
Despite these failures, both Indian and British defence sources say that the contract could still be rescued for Typhoon.
A spokesman for BAE said: “The assessment made last week was basically a view from the pricing committee. There’s an awful long way to go before there’s a signed contract. It is far from a done deal.”
Though Typhoon is currently less well armed than Rafale, it is probably the more capable aircraft.
Experts say it can deliver a higher kill-loss ratio in air-to-air combat than the French jet.
“If they take the Rafale, the Indians will have to continue to rely on their Sukhoi 30s [fighters] for air dominance,” said Mr Lake.
“That’s all right if you are fighting Pakistan. But if you are fighting China, who also have Su-30s, you are not going to win.”
Commercially, Rafale has a track record of “winning” at this stage of a competition, then being overhauled in the final stretch.
The aircraft was selected as preferred bidder for a 60-jet order by the United Arab Emirates, but was then dropped as “uncompetitive and unworkable in commercial terms” by the customer, though there were reports last week that it might be back in the running.
Typhoon is now again in contention for the UAE business. Rafale was preferred by the Swiss air force, but the Swiss government chose the rival Gripen fighter instead. A supposed order with Brazil has also failed so far to materialise.
The Rafale has been assessed by the Indians as cheaper than the Typhoon.
The prices offered by the two bidders are secret. But official figures for Britain’s spending on the Typhoon, compared with France’s spending on the Rafale, appear to suggest that the British jet is slightly cheaper, though the science is very imprecise and cost figures for the same aircraft can vary by up to 40% depending on what is included.
Mr Lake said: “I would suspect when the Indians probe hard into the French price they will find that it is not satisfactory and hasn’t included things.”
Yet even if the Typhoon does, in the end, come through, it will not be the British jobs bonanza that some reports have claimed.
Because the aircraft is a four-nation joint effort, Britain would only have a 37 per cent share of the deal. And perhaps the most important part of the bargain for the Indians is that they want more than half — and perhaps up to four-fifths — of the aircraft to be manufactured in India.
Even on the Indian-made jets, substaintial components would still be British - but we could end up with less than a fifth of the actual work.
In other words, Britain may end up with less than 10 per cent of the production work on the deal.
It is still a good bargain, though, according to Tim Ripley.
“The real value is not in the assembly of the planes,” he says. “It is being involved in their future support and development over the next 40 years, it is keeping the production line going, and it is being embedded with one of the world’s major economic players.
“It is the life-support system for the British military aerospace industry. That is why it is so important that we get this right.”
Turbulence ahead with Indian jet deal - Telegraph