Following an excruciating wait of nearly 16 years and after exhaustive contractual negotiations spanning the past 17 months, the Indian Air Force (IAF) finally fulfilled its dream of procuring fourth-generation medium multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA) on September 23 when defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean Yves Le Drian inked the Euro 7.878 billion (about Rs 59,000 crore) inter-governmental procurement contract for an initial 36 Rafales (28 single-seaters and eight tandem-seaters) built to the latest F-3R standard, plus related hardware. The contract includes an option to procure another 18 Rafales within a pre-specified timeframe under the same contractual terms and conditions.
Rafale aircraft under final-assembly at Dassault Aviation’s Mérignac-based facility
Implementation oversight of the contract will be the joint responsibility of India’s ministry of defence (MoD) and the French defence ministry’s Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA).
An initial 15 per cent of the contract value has since been paid as advance, while another 25 per cent will be paid 17 months later, with another 55 per cent being paid in progressive tranches once aircraft deliveries begin, with the final 5 per cent being paid upon completion of the delivery schedule. Base price of each single-seat variant of the Rafale is Euro 91.07 million, while the tandem-seater variant costs Euro 94 million. An IAF project supervisory team headed by a Group Captain will soon proceed to Dassault Aviation’s Mérignac-based facility to establish an office there to oversee the sequential project compliance/ milestone attainment and delivery processes of the 36 Rafales. Deliveries will begin within 36 months (September 2019) of contract signature and will be completed by 67 months (early 2022).
Following the Euro 7.878 billion contract, the DGA will next ink production contracts worth Euro 3.42 billion with the principal original equipment manufacturers (OEM) like Dassault Aviation, THALES Group, Snecma Moteurs and Sagem Défense Sécurité. In addition, for transforming the Rafales into IAF-specific platforms through the integration of customer-supplied non-French hardware, the principal OEMs will be allocated Euro 1.7 billion, while the various types of simulators for operational flight conversion, ground maintenance; part-task training tools for the employment of a variety of precision-guided munitions (PGM); and mission planning-and-replay systems will cost Euro 1.8 billion.
A related performance-based logistics package will be worth Euro 353 million, while the armaments package, to be delivered by MBDA, will cost Euro 710 million. The contract is inclusive of a 50 per cent industrial offsets clause that obligates the principal French OEMs to invest half the contract value (about Euro 3 billion) back with India-based industrial vendors over a seven-year period. This will be achieved by ensuring that goods and services worth 74 per cent of the 50 per cent offsets value are exported to France from India. Another 6 per cent technology-sharing component will involve the MoD-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
Defence ministers Jean Yves Le Drian (left) and Manohar Parrikar inking the contract on September 23 in New Delhi
The DGA will ensure that the Rafale’s principal OEMs provide guaranteed performance-based logistics support for the M-MRCA fleet, which in turn will translate into 75 per cent of the Rafale fleet (27 aircraft) staying airworthy at any given time. The OEMs will also supply rotable/consumable spares for a period of seven years (instead of the universal five-year norm) at initial cost, with an option for a new product-support contract to be negotiated for the next five years. The European-standard annual cost escalation figure too has been brought down from 4 per cent to 3.5 per cent. In addition, the IAF will get a guaranteed availability of an additional 60 flight-hours for the tandem-seat operational flight conversion versions of the Rafale, along with a concession to keep the weapons package in storage in France for an additional six months without any charge. The IAF will also get free training packages for nine personnel (three pilots and six ground crew personnel, estimated to be worth Euro 100 million.
Following expiry of the 24-month warranty period, through-life product support and depot-level maintenance/ repair/ overhaul (MRO) facilities are likely to be provided by an industrial consortium comprising the French OEMs and their Indian counterparts drawn from both the public and private sectors. To ensure 75 per cent fleet availability at all times, one of the Rafale’s two designated operating air bases (Gwalior and Ambala) will have a second-line MRO facility for servicing flight/mission avionics, engines and hydraulic accessories. An engine repair section will be also be set up in Gwalior. The projected depot-level, industry-owned MRO facility will benefit from industrial technology transfers in areas like metallic and composite structure repair, canopy and radome re-lifing, landing gear overhauls, and the servicing of turbine and compressor blades, FADEC-related avionics, brakes, hydraulics, and both internal fuel-flow systems and in-flight refuelling probes and conformal fuel tanks.
The IAF, however, will find the Rafale’s MRO philosophy to be revolutionary and radically simplified, thanks to the aircraft’s ‘internal integrated testability’ design philosophy covering all on-board avionics, which enables printed circuit-boards to be exchanged at the flight-line itself. Testability targets call for 95 per cent fault detection, plus the ability to detect all safety-critical failures.
Rafale aircraft with the weapons
An automated, centralised weaponry safety system gets rid of all safety pins and end-of-runway actions, and contributes to achieve very low turn-around-times during flight operations. In addition, minimal ground-support equipment is required since the Rafale comes equipped with an oxygen generation system, a closed-loop cooling fluid system for avionics bulkheads, and an internal APU that provides electrical power until the engine-driven generators come on line.
Furthermore, there is no complete airframe or engine depot-level inspection required throughout the aircraft’s specified service life, and only specific components such as shop-replaceable units (SRU) are required to be sent to the depot-level MRO facility for servicing. The same philosophy applies to the M88-2E4 turbofan, which comprises 21 modules that are interchangeable without needing full balancing and re-calibration.
For MRO, only modules or parts are to be returned to the OEM. The Rafale also requires 30 per cent less man-hours of maintenance compared to the Mirage 2000. For instance, the side-opening canopy facilitates ejection-seat removal within 10 minutes by only two men. In addition, no flight-line external tester is now required, while the elimination of engine run-up test-cell is a unique achievement. Finally, the Rafale’s through-life maintenance monitoring concept has radically shortened its scheduled maintenance plan. Consequently, throughout its life, the aircraft will never be required to leave its operational air base for MRO reasons.
The IAF’s twin-engined Rafales will be powered by Snecma Moteurs-developed M88-2E4 turbofans, each of which produces 22,500lb (100kN) of thrust dry and 34,000lb with full afterburner. They will also have 14 India-specific enhancements, primarily in the area of mission avionics. Indigenously developed systems expected to go on-board include the RAM-1701AS radio altimeter, TACAN-2901AJ and DME-2950A tactical air navigation system combined with the ANS-1100A VOL/ILS marker, CIT-4000A Mk.XII IFF transponder with Mode S capability, COM-1150A UHF standby comms radio, UHF SATCOM transceiver, and the SDR-2010 SoftNET four-channel software-defined radio (working in VHF/UHF and L-band for voice and data communications) — all developed in-house by the Hyderabad-based Strategic Electronics R&D Centre of the MoD-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and already being used by the IAF’s Su-30MKIs.
In addition, the THALES-developed RBE-2 active electronically scanning multi-mode radar, which has a detection range of 180km and performs track-while-scan (TWS) of up to 40 airborne targets, will also feature IAF-mandated operating modes like a ground moving target indication-cum-tracking mode simultaneously interlaced with the airspace TWS mode; a synthetic aperture radar mapping mode; weather observation mode; and traffic collision avoidance mode. The laser designation pod will be LITENING from Israel’s RAFAEL Advanced Defence Systems, while the pilot’s helmet-mounted display system will be the TARGO from Israel’s Elbit Systems. All of the IAF’s Rafale F-3Rs will also be equipped with expendable, active fibre-optic towed-decoys, these being the leurre électromagnétique actif (LEA) now being developed by MBDA and to be integrated by THALES under the INtegration de nouvelles CApacités a Spectra (INCAS) project.
The Rafale’s THALES-developed Modular Data Processing Unit, comprising 18 flight line-replaceable modules, will ensure that next-generation avionics and PGMs now under development can be easily integrated, thereby ensuring that the M-MRCA has war-fighting relevance beyond 2040. Software upgrades are scheduled to take place every two years, Sensor data fusion features of the RBE-2, the THALES-developed Système de Protection et d'Évitement des Conduites de Tir du Rafale (SPECTRA) integrated electronic warfare, self-defence suite, the Optronique Secteur Frontal (OSF) passive, multi-spectral optronic target detection/tracking system jointly developed by THALES and Sagem Défense Sécuritém and the THALES-developed MIDS tactical data-link (using the IAF’s proprietary encrypted applications software operating in the national secure mode) will combine to provide a link between the global battlespace surrounding the aircraft and the pilot’s brain, enabling the latter to quickly grasp the outcome of tactical situations and make optimum decisions.
The Rafale’s stores management system, which is MIL-STD-1760 compliant, will enable the seamless integration of PGMs already in service with the IAF, like the Griffin-3 laser-guided bombs that can be launched from both AT-730 triple-ejector rack with three TG-480 ejectors, and AUF-2 dual-ejector racks, both to be supplied by RAFAUT. This same French OEM will also supply launch-pylons for the Rafale’s guided-munitions, including the MBDA-built, ramjet-powered 150km-range Meteor long-range air-to-air missiles and MICA IR/RF family of beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles, 570km-range Scalp-EG land-attack cruise missiles, and the AASM family of standoff PGMs that come along with nose-mounted laser-guided, IR-guided or TV-guided terminally homing sensors.
For operational conversion of aircrews and maintenance of aircrew skills proficiency, THALES will supply two cockpit procedures trainers (for aiding pilots to learn the layout of the cockpit, location of switches, lights, circuit breakers, instruments, and other functions), and a full-motion simulator (to enable the pilots to train for landing, take-off, weapons delivery, night flight, formation flight and cockpit familiarisation in normal, adverse and emergency situations). Part-task trainers (training devices designed to train aircrew and ground crew for operating and servicing avionics, weapons delivery, mission management and squadron-level MRO taskings) will come from Dassault Systemes, Snecma Moteurs, Sagem Défense Sécurité and THALES. The Sagem-supplied mission planning and replay system, called Système Local de Préparation et de Restitution de Mission (SLPRM), will comprise a portable computer system enabling the preparation of an operational mission on a standard flash-card that is later inserted in the Rafale’s mission computer.
Upon entering service, the Rafales, when armed with standoff land-attack and electromagnetic pulse-generating PGMs, will serve as the principal all-weather deep-interdictor platforms to be unleashed by the IAF in the opening hours of future offensive air campaigns, since the in-service Jaguar IS interdictors, armed with 512 Textron Systems-supplied CBU-105 sensor-fuzed munitions (since late 2012) and now being upgraded by HAL to DARIN-3 standard, have already begun replacing the MiG-27Ms and MiG-27UPGs in the tactical and battlefield air interdiction roles.