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IAF: The Mirage Minuet

Discussion in 'Indian Air Force' started by Manmohan Yadav, May 14, 2014.

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  1. Manmohan Yadav

    Manmohan Yadav Brigadier STAR MEMBER

    Jul 1, 2011
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    The Mirage is no longer a mirage. Last fortnight, in the famous wine country of Bordeaux in the south of France, the first fully assembled Mirage-2000 built for the Indian Air Force (IAF) glided off the assembly line at Dassault-Bregeut's sprawling plant at Marignac.

    The sleek, delta-winged fighter will undergo technical and avionic trials before being formally handed over in mid-September to IAF pilots currently training with the French Air Force's first Mirage-2000 fighter squadron. The first Mirage will be ferried across to Indian soil early next year for induction into the country's ballooning fighter aircraft inventory.

    Last fortnight's champagne uncorked at Marignac was also for the benefit of Air Marshal Dilbagh Singh, IAF chief who had been invited to France for the occasion, albeit indirectly. In fact, the unveiling of the IAF Mirage at Marignac was underscored by two rather significant factors.


    One was that the announcement came from Dassault-Bregeut who flew down a senior public relations official to New Delhi specifically to break the good news. The second was that Dilbagh Singh had been invited to France by his counterpart in the French Air Force and the timing of his visit with the unveiling was hardly a coincidence.

    The French Government has majority control of Dassault and it would be safe to assume that Singh's invitation was tied in to the event at Marignac. Singh was also privileged to fly in one of the Mirage-2000s and according to French officials pronounced him self "quite satisfied".

    But the key question is whether the Indian Government holds similar views. There was additional significance in the fact that Dassault found it necessary to fly down a spokesman to New Delhi. When the original Mirage deal was signed, the 'Intention to Proceed' contract was for an initial order of 40 aircraft for outright purchase in fly-away condition and an option to produce another 110 Mirages in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore, for which Dassault was agreeable to provide a total technology transfer.

    The deadline for that option, significantly enough, expires on June 30 and so far the Indian Government has given no indication that it will sign the second part of the contract. Defence Ministry officials remained tight-lipped about the production element of the deal except to say that no final decision had been taken yet. Mirage spokesmen say there are "positive signs" that the Indian Government will take up the option but that they are clearly worried is evident by the events of last fortnight.
    Clearly, they have good reason to be perturbed. In financial terms, the Indian option offers Dassault the biggest-ever contract for the Mirage, even bigger than that of the French Air Force. So far, only Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Peru, India and the French Air Force have contracted for the Mirage-2000 and the Indian option will obviously give the programme a major financial boost.

    But Dassault's worry extends beyond mere financial considerations. It is more rooted in the nature of the competition that has forced the Indian Government to review the second part of the Mirage contract; namely, the Soviet Union.

    Or, to be more specific, the MiG-29. The first sign that an attempt to scuttle the Mirage-2000 production programme was being made came when the Soviets offered India the MiG-29 the latest in their inventory (it is meant to enter Soviet operational service in 1985), during Defence Minister R. Venkatraman's visit to Moscow last August. The offer was repeated during Soviet Defence Minister Marshal Dmitri Ustinov's visit to New Delhi a few months later.

    There have been other pointers in plenty. Shortly after his return from Moscow, Venkatraman stated in Parliament that India was going to select a "futuristic aircraft to meet the challenge posed by the presence of the F-16 in a neighbouring country". The inference was clearly with regard to the MiG-29. Since then, Defence Ministry spokesmen have gone out of their way to sing the praises of the MiG-29, particularly its superiority over the F-16.

    A team of IAF pilots have already visited the Soviet Union for test flying the aircraft and reportedly returned enamoured of the aircraft's versatility. However, very little is actually known about the aircraft's actual performance and characteristics. It is undoubtedly a major improvement on previous Soviet fighters.

    In March, 1983, the US Department of Defence published a document on Soviet military power which described the MiG-29 as a twin-engined aircraft with improved range, thrust-to-weight ratio and manoeuvrability that represented a "concerted effort by the Soviet Union to close the technological gap with the West". The document describes the MiG-29 as a supersonic all weather counter-air fighter with lookdown-shootdown weapon systems and beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles.

    According to the latest edition of Jane's, the MiG-29 is likely to have a true dual-role air combat/attack capability similar to the F-16 and F-18. However, there are doubts regarding claims that the aircraft is capable of speeds up to Mach 2.8 since it is made of conventional materials that would be unable to withstand the kinetic heating associated with that performance.

    But the bottom line in the MiG-29 offer, and one that the Defence Ministry will no doubt take undue consideration of, is the inevitable cost factor. According to sources, the MiG-29 is being offered to India with a price-tag of slightly under Rs.5 crore per aircraft which is about half the cost of the Mirage-2000.

    The obvious intention is to phase out the production of the MiG-21 Bis, the backbone of the IAF strike force, in time to switch over to the MiG-29 production project. The MiG-21 was originally intended to be phased out in mid-'84 but latest indications are that it will extend into 1985-86 though production will be considerably scaled down in the extension period. In fact, that process has already started with HAL's production schedule for 35 MiG-21s in 1983-84 having been scaled down to 17 aircraft.

    But the wisdom of that decision is questionable, as the French are quick to point out. Their reasoning is that there is nothing to stop India from producing the MiG-29s at their Nasik plant, where the MiG-21s are currently being manufactured.

    But that should not deter the Government from going in for the Mirage-2000 production line at HAL's Bangalore factory where the Jaguars are being assembled. The French argument is that since Bangalore is already geared and equipped to produce western aircraft, it would be logical and far more practical to switch from Jaguar production to that of the Mirage-2000.

    The French also insist that the Mirage is no less superior to the F-16 in terms of long-range striking capability, the radar system and armaments which enables the Mirage to detect, lock in and fire its weapon system far in advance of the F-16.

    The French also point out that Soviet aircraft like the MiG-29 may be cheaper than those available in the West, but actually work out as expensive because of the shorter life-span of the parts. Soviet aircraft engines, for instance, have about half the life-span of western aircraft engines like the Snecma M53 being fitted on the Mirage.

    There is also the unquestionable fact that the technology transfer being offered by the French for the Mirage production will offer HAL unrestricted access to state-of-the-art aircraft technology which could be later used for India's own future projects like the proposed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme.

    It would, for instance, give HAL engineers a firsthand knowledge of third generation aircraft technology like chemical etching and milling and, more important, the manufacture of components made from composite materials which are being billed as the future wonder material for aircraft production in the '90s because of its lighter weight and strength. The Mirage uses components built of carbon and boron fibre and this is one area where the Soviets are still far behind the West.

    Other access would be to the advanced avionics and the fly-by-wire electrical flight control systems. But the main point the French are trying to hammer home is the industrial investment it represents for HAL and the Indian aeronautical industry.

    Their estimates are that airframe production work alone represents 1.2 million working hours. This figure would double if India agrees to manufacture the Snecma engine and triple if it opts for producing the avionics as well.

    Production of the Mirage, the French point out, would also provide the Indian aircraft industry with adequate workload for the next 20 years since a combat aircraft generates about the same workload in overhaul, spare parts and ammunition as the aircraft's operational life.

    India will gain technologically if it does opt for the Mirage production but indications are that it will ask Dassault to extend the deadline. By which time the Mirage may yet turn out to be a mirage.
  2. randomradio

    randomradio Colonel REGISTERED

    Nov 22, 2013
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    And we dumped both options and instead chose Su-30 and Rafale. Interesting.
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