Until the Indian Air Force [IAF] acquired 36 units, the Dassault Rafale was a proficient combat aircraft with a restricted international clientele. The purchase by the IAF marked a turning point for the French aircraft manufacturer, leading to an influx of orders and positioning Dassault as one of the global leaders in aircraft sales.

The SAAB Gripen, a formidable force in the world of aviation, anticipates a significant reversal of fortunes. This optimistic expectation is rooted in the prospect of securing the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft [MRFA] deal with the Indian Air Force [IAF]. The deal hinges on the promise of an enhanced and upgraded version of the Gripen-E, a testament to the continuous evolution and improvement in military technology.

The Indian defence sector has been witnessing a heightened level of anticipation surrounding the forthcoming tender for 114 Multi Role Fighter Aircraft [MRFA] for the Indian Air Force [IAF]. This urgency is further amplified by the rapid decline in the IAF’s fighter jet squadron strength. The MRFA deal is a significant development, representing a progression from the erstwhile Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft [MMRCA] project that was discontinued in 2015.

The Intricate MMRCA Deal Process

Spanning almost a decade and a half, the MMRCA deal was an intricate process that ultimately met its demise at the hands of the Indian government. In a surprising turn of events, the government chose to bypass the protracted negotiations and procured 36 Rafale fighter jets directly from the French authorities.

For an extended period, the French omni-role fighter jet, Rafale, grappled with the challenge of securing a significant buyer. Beyond the modest purchases made by Egypt and Qatar, the Rafale’s order book remained rather unremarkable, devoid of any substantial achievements to flaunt.

The Rafale, a term that translates to “gust of wind” in the French language, was unable to secure contracts from nations such as Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Singapore, and Switzerland. The prohibitive cost associated with this military equipment emerged as a pivotal determinant in these contract negotiations.

SAAB Officially Joined

The Indian subsidiary of Swedish defence giant, SAAB, known for producing the single-engine Gripen fighter jets, has been prominently in the fray ever since the Indian Air Force [IAF] indicated a requirement for 114 advanced fighter jets. Just last week, in a strategic move, it has extended a formal offer to the IAF via its official account on Twitter, showcasing its enhanced Gripen-E model.

In a statement disseminated on the 28th of August, it was conveyed, “Saab, in alignment with its forthcoming response to the imminent IAF Request for Proposal [RFP], is poised to proffer a fleet of 114 cutting-edge Gripen-E fighters. The deployment of Gripen-E will furnish India with a next-generation combat air capability, coupled with world-class availability – prepared to counteract any threat, at any given time, from any location, irrespective of its remoteness.”

However, an apparent lag, if not an outright deviation, appears to exist between the metaphorical cup and lips. The IAF initiated the RFI back in 2018 and received an overwhelmingly positive response from global aircraft manufacturers, eager to engage in the multi-billion-dollar transaction.

Gripen-E, F-15EX, F/A-18 And F-21

In the high-stakes race for the deal, the French fighter jets are perceived as the leading contenders, given their current operational status. They find themselves pitted against formidable competitors such as Boeing’s F-15EX and F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, and the F-21 from the stables of Lockheed Martin.

“The generation of new Air Staff Qualitative Requirements [ASQRs] for the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft [MRFA] has been initiated. Therefore, it is not a given that Rafale will indisputably prevail,” a high-ranking official from the Indian Air Force [IAF] said. The ASQR formulation process, in defence acquisition, is of paramount importance. It fundamentally influences the quality, cost, and competitive nature of the defence equipment in question.

The capability of the Indian Air Force [IAF] to set Air Staff Qualitative Requirements [ASQRs] in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft [MMRCA] program has garnered commentary from the Indian Comptroller and Auditor General [CAG]. In a comprehensive scrutiny conducted in 2007, the CAG noted an overwhelming emphasis on technical specifics as opposed to functional parameters. This approach precipitated scenarios where the stipulations of the ASQRs were unattainable by any of the participating vendors.

Under The Microscope

Moreover, the ASQRs underwent continuous modifications throughout the procurement process, further complicating the situation. This constant alteration of requirements posed significant challenges to the vendors, highlighting potential shortcomings in the IAF’s ASQR setting capability.

Air Marshal M. Matheswaran (Retd), elucidated the intricacies of the MMRCA competition, describing it as an exercise marked by thoroughness and rigorous scrutiny. “Each contender was put under the microscope over an extended period of years,” he stated. However, as he turned his attention to the MRFA, essentially a rebranded version of the same contract, he posited that the ‘Make in India’ initiative might play a pivotal role in the decision-making process.

The individual in question once held the esteemed position of Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff at the Integrated Defence Service. Following this, his subsequent appointment was the Senior Air Staff Officer within the Eastern Air Command. In an intricate orchestration of events, he was intimately involved in the MMRCA agreement, prior to its unfortunate and abrupt cancellation.

The Superiority of The Gripen-E

The Gripen-E, standing at the pinnacle of modernity in the competitive landscape of fighter jets, proffers the Indian Air Force [IAF] a distinct advantage over its rivals. This edge is sharpened by its formidable arsenal, notably the Meteor Beyond Visual Range missile.

The aircraft’s state-of-the-art sensors, including the Active Electronically Scanned Array [AESA] radar and Infra-Red Search and Track [IRST] system, coupled with advanced datalinks and an artificial intelligence-enabled decision support, bestow upon the pilot an unprecedented situational awareness. This superior knowledge of the battlefield enables the pilot to both perceive, and react to, threats before their adversaries, embodying the axiom of ‘see first-act first’.

Despite the Gripen-E’s allure, attributed to its superior electronic warfare capability, the integration of potent missiles, a minimized-radar cross-section, and economical operating costs, the fighter jet appears to be lagging behind its rivals. The principal areas where it seems to be at a disadvantage are political influence and financial support, both of which are crucial elements in the defence sector.

Contrary to the prevailing presumption that Rafale will clinch the victory, insiders privy to the process remain sceptical. “Several other aircraft have undergone substantial upgrades, thus meeting the stringent demands of the IAF. Notably, such aircraft include the Gripen-E, as well as the F-15E and F-21,” the official offered, presenting an alternative perspective.

The Gripen-E boasts a formidable arsenal, with the capacity to transport nine missiles and a staggering 16 bombs, in addition to an extensive array of other weaponry and payloads. This, complemented by the aircraft’s adaptable design, facilitates the seamless incorporation of novel weapon systems and stores. This flexibility extends to all mission types, ranging from air-to-air missile deployment to reconnaissance and the deployment of heavy air-to-ground armaments.

‘Make In India’

It appears that the MMRCA project is fraught with difficulties. The Indian Air Force [IAF] initially put forth a proposal in August 2000, expressing their intent to procure 126 units of the Mirage 2000 II aircraft. However, the proposal was abruptly shelved in 2004. A few years later, in 2007, the decision was re-evaluated and it was resolved to acquire the same quantity of aircraft, 126, under the auspices of the MMRCA project.

In a subsequent turn of events, the initial plan was ultimately discarded. Instead, the Indian Air Force [IAF] opted for the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft. This significant purchase was facilitated through an Inter-Governmental Agreement [IGA] that was established with the French government.

The Indian Air Force [IAF] is currently engaged in the intricate process of building a compelling case for the acquisition of advanced fighter jets, and is eagerly anticipating the government’s official Acceptance of Necessity [AoN]. Experts associated with the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft [MMRCA] program, sometimes referred to as MMRCA 2.0, have underscored the significance of the ‘Make in India’ component. This is a key initiative that the Indian government has been diligently advocating and promoting with considerable vigour.

Quickly Replenish

Despite the Indian Air Force’s [IAF] current squadron strength of 31, a stark contrast to the sanctioned 42, the organization has been anticipating governmental approval for an extensive period. This information was relayed by none other than Air Marshal N Tiwari, the deputy chief of the IAF during that time. Speaking to a group of journalists at an Aero India event, Tiwari conveyed his expectations of receiving the long-awaited Acceptance of Necessity [AoN] from the government within the forthcoming three to four months.

The Indian Air Force [IAF], despite its pressing need to quickly replenish its diminishing fighter squadrons with 500 new fighter jets, still awaits the proverbial green light. The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated, as the swift induction of these aircraft is instrumental in maintaining national security.

Aligning with the Indian Government’s “Make in India” initiative, the IAF has signalled its intent to prioritize domestic manufacturing in its proposed procurement. Prior to presenting the proposal for 114 Medium Range Fighter Aircraft [MRFA], the IAF expressed an interest in placing an additional order for 90 Light Combat Aircraft Mk1, underscoring its commitment to this national endeavour.

The IAF official conveyed, with an air of urgency, that the timeframe extended to a minimum of six to eight years following the government’s AoN. This duration, he stressed, posed a significant challenge given the immediate needs of the IAF.

An authoritative official privy to the situation conveyed thus, “A vast array of aircraft is indispensable for the Indian Air Force [IAF] to establish itself as a formidable deterrent to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF]. Nevertheless, the IAF has been unsuccessful in persuading the Indian government of the necessity for importing aircraft on such an extensive scale.”

It is projected that the entire procedure, from initiation to the final delivery of the aircraft, will span a period of six to seven years. Within this timeframe, the TEJAS MK-2 might also be prepared for induction. This potential overlap could be the source of the government’s current indecision, the official provided insight.

The official made note of potential contenders for import, including the F-21, F-15E, Gripen-E, and Su-35. However, he emphasized that the government must first give its consent to the importation of these fighter aircraft, considering the existing presence of the TEJAS MK-2 and MK-1A.


With an aim to augment range and endurance, the forthcoming TEJAS MK-2 is set to introduce a remarkable set of enhancements. This model will be distinguished by its increased length of 1,350mm, the incorporation of canards, and an impressive leap in payload capacity. The TEJAS MK-2 will be capable of carrying a hefty load of 6,500 kg, significantly surpassing the 3,500 kg limit of the current TEJAS model.

The TEJAS MK-2, a notable advancement in military technology, is set to be powered by the formidable General Electric F414-INS6 engine. This represents a significant upgrade from its predecessors, which were equipped with the less powerful F404 engine.

It is projected that the TEJAS MK-2 will achieve a maximum velocity of 1.8 Mach, effectively reaching a service altitude of 50,000 feet. Moreover, it is anticipated that heavy weaponry, specifically those of the SCALP, Crystal Maze, and Spice-2000 categories, will be seamlessly integrated into the MK-2 platform.