Thursday, February 2, 2012

For a European Plane

The British government and David Cameron in particular are obviously unhappy with the choice of the Indian Government for the Rafale fighter plane.
A few days before the closure of the bid (December 31, 2011) for the 10 billion dollar contract to purchase new generation fighters for the Indian Air Force, Cameron and three of his colleagues from Germany, Italy and Spain had jointly written a confidential letter to Dr Manmohan Singh praising  the Eurofighter.
David Cameron, Angela Merkel, along with the Italian and Spanish Prime Ministers affirmed that the EADS' Eurofighter is an "excellent aircraft that stands on its own merit". 
The letter welcomed India as the "fifth partner country" to jointly develop the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), in the event of Eurofighter being chosen. The four PMs have also reaffirmed the "security of supply" in the case the Eurofighter Typhoon is chosen.
It was probably too late as the Rafale was cheaper that its European rival.
More interestingly, the United States continue to bid for their F-35 (fifth generation) plane. 
Here the situation was more tricky as the Lockheed Martin F-35 was not part of the original bid. I reproduce here a posting (translated by me) on a French blog Secret Defence maintained by the well-known French journalist and defense expert Jean-Dominique Merchet. The posting, dated December 21, 2011 shows another side of the coin, different from the US propaganda. 
Japan announced this week that it has selected the F-35A as its future fighter aircraft. The plane of Lockheed Martin was competing with the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet of Boeing and Eurofighter-Typhoon of EADS. The Rafale was not involved in this competition.
What to think of the Japanese choice?
The purchase of a fighter aircraft is an inherently political act; the manufacturing, financial and military considerations, though important, are not decisive factors. And once the political decision is taken, it is dressed up with all sorts of technical, more or less credible justifications.
What did Japan wanted?
Two things: an air-superior aircraft and the development of its own aviation industry. He gets neither one, nor the other.
Japan is located in a region where the prospect of a high intensity war has not disappeared. China continues to develop its armed forces and its Air Force. The two Koreas (which maintain complex relations with Tokyo) and are close by, so is Russia which, let us not forget, has a border  as well as a territorial dispute
with Japan (Kuril Islands). Under these circumstances, Japan needs an air-superior aircraft, that is to say a fighter plane optimized for air-air combat when facing serious threats. That's why Japan wanted to acquire the formidable US F-22, an expensive device, but designed for this unique mission. Las! The Americans have refused to sell it and stopped the production line.
The F-18 Super Hornet (the latest version of F-18) is a very good fighter plane, moreover multi-role: it is used by the US Navy for the protection of its most valuable asset: its aircraft carriers. As for the Eurofighter Typhoon, if not an exceptional aircraft, but it was specifically designed for air-air mission. It was therefore a serious candidate.
Finally, the Japanese will buy the F-35 ...which is an aircraft designed for ground attack. Of course, stealth and electronic systems will help operate the aircraft in very hostile conditions, but then it does not make it a fighter plane, there is a serious gap - especially if it is has tomorrow (in fifteen years!) to intercept aircraft like Su T-50. Moreover, the USAF as the RAF have planes for the two usages: for ground attack, the F-35 and an interceptor (F-22 or Eurofighter in this case) for air superiority.
If the F-35 was so versatile, we could have expected that the USAF would have shown the example [and used it]...
Japan also wanted to further develop its own aviation industry - a strategic choice for this country. The F-4 Phantom and F-15 aircrafts used by Japan were built under license in Japan. A local version of the F-16, named the F-2, has also been produced. It is not just the question of running factories, but also to acquire skills.
As for Germany after 1945, Japan lost its know-how: it wanted to regain it. With the Eurofighter, EADS offered access to all of information industry and aircraft construction in Japan itself. Boeing's proposal, with the Super-Hornet, was less generous, but still very attractive. It is not the case with the F-35: only 40% of the aircraft will be produced on site and access to sensitive information on the combat systems (source code) or stealth will remain limited.
So why to buy 42 F-35A? The Japanese government ‘seriously’ says that is the program is cheaper! A joke when you consider that members of Congress and all the experts are tearing their hair in front of the financial drifts of the program, already the world's most expensive. The overall cost of the acquisition and twenty years of running the plane would cost between 5 to 6 billion Euros.
For an airplane which is still not in service! The US Air Force speaks of an initial operational capability (that is to say, not very much) in 2018...
The F-35 turns out to be what it is: an air-superior aircraft of a particular kind. Let me explain: if, before it entered service, its capacity to destroy fighter planes in flight remains to be demonstrated, the program will have destroyed much of the military aircraft industry in the world in the field they hold most precious: their ability to design a fighter plane.
They will keep the workshops and factories, no doubt. But they have lost the rest; only the United States will retain the essential forcing its allies to share the costs! Nice victory.
It just happens that Japan - which has lost the war in 1945 and is located in a region of the world is not out of the cold war - has no choice. Few countries, including France, who still have the capacity [to design a fighter plane] would do well to think about this.  
The moral of the story is that EADS and Dassault should club their energy and resources to develop the next generation aircraft. Ditto for drones. But are the heads of the different European States wise enough to take such a bold decision?
In view of the recent spats between Sarkozy and Cameron, it is doubtful.

India has wisely chosen to jointly work with Russia to develop the Sukhoi T-50. Joint development is the solution of the future.

Fighter punch stuns Britain
Cameron calls IAF move ‘disappointing’, keeps hope alive
The Times
London/New Delhi, Feb. 1:
Rarely before have India’s shopping preferences stirred such hand-wringing in Britain.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron today expressed “disappointment” at the possibility of losing the deal from the Indian Air Force which has zeroed in on the French Rafale for placing the world’s biggest order for fighter planes.
Cameron, who had spared no effort to lobby hard for the job-generating order in the middle of a downturn, appeared to be keeping his hopes alive as the French deal has not yet been inked.
“Of course, I will do everything I can — as I have already — to encourage the Indians to look at Typhoon, because I think it is such a good aircraft…. They have not yet awarded the contract,” Cameron told MPs today. Britain’s BAE has a 33 per cent stake in the four-nation consortium building the Eurofighter Typhoon.
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Cameron added that the Typhoon was a “superb aircraft, far better than Rafale”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected in London “within weeks”. So, the two Prime Ministers will have a great deal to discuss — there is the feeling in London that the UK is putting more into its relationship with India than the other way round. British pride — or at least British tabloid pride — is hurt. UK’s Mail Online noted: “Well that’s gratitude! We give India a £1bn in aid, THEY snub the UK and give France a £13bn jet contract.”
The IAF decision is a personal embarrassment for Cameron, who made growing trade with India a key foreign policy issue. He chose India for his first prominent foreign tour as Prime Minister in July 2010, taking six cabinet ministers and 39 business leaders, including BAE representatives.
Although Cameron said that “we do not expect any job losses stemming from this decision”, British ministers had said the programme could help over 200 local companies in the supply chain while supporting up to 5,000 jobs.
One silver-lining is that EADS, the Eurofighter consortium, holds over 46 per cent stake in Rafale-maker Dassault Aviation. If Dassault does well, the consortium also gets to share the profit pie.
The French bid was cheaper but analysts said political backing had been the key to victory. French President Nicolas Sarkozy described the decision as a vote of confidence in “the entire French economy”, just 48 hours after he declared that Britain had no manufacturing sector to speak of.
Barry Gardiner, Labour MP and chairperson of Labour Friends of India, used language less temperate than Cameron’s. “I have today called for major reforms to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), after the UK-based BAE Systems lost the contract,” he said. “The loss of the Eurofighter contracts is another major blow to British industry, and comes at the worst possible time.”
“Today I have called for radical reform of the Indian high commission’s role in promoting UK-India trade…. India House has now been without a high commissioner for seven months, something that would be inconceivable in Beijing or Washington. This demonstrates that the ministry for external affairs in Delhi no longer sees the UK as strategically vital to India’s interests,” said Gardiner.
J. Bhagwati, India’s ambassador in Brussels, has been appointed high commissioner to the UK and is expected to take up the new job this month.
“Suffice it to say that the views and perspectives of the high commission are rather different from those expressed by Mr. Gardiner,” responded a high commission spokesperson.
Reports from the other Typhoon consortium members — Italy, Spain and Germany — suggested they have not given up. Germany’s Spiegel Online said the “deal could ultimately collapse — (for) in the past, all other talks to sell Dassault’s Rafale aircraft abroad have failed.”
If the scramble turns dirty, it won’t be long before mutterings of bribes and honey traps surface.

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