Sweden's Gripen NG, the last of the six fighter aircraft that are being evaluated by the Indian Air Force for the $12 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal, left Bangalore on Monday morning for the Air Force Station (AFS) Jaisalmer.
Having gone through a week of performance trials — including a demonstration of air-to-air refuelling and flying manoeuvres — by the IAF's specifically designated MMRCA team here, two Gripens will now complete the remaining part of their flight tests over Pokhran and Leh before heading for the AFS Jamnagar and then to an air base in Sweden.
While one of the Gripens will undertake hot weather trials in and around the AFS Jaisalmer and later take off to perform a dummy run and bomb drop at the Pokhran test range, the other fighter, as part of the cold weather trials, will land in Leh, switch off, refuel and then take off again.
Ministry of Defence officials familiar with the MMRCA trials told The Hindu that while they expect no hiccups during the weapons drop over Pokhran, the Leh exercise proved challenging to the other contenders vying for the MMRCA deal.
The officials confided that four of the five aircraft in the MMRCA competition faced problems starting up in the rarefied atmosphere of Leh, and the IAF had to ask the manufacturers to undertake modifications in the aircraft's fuel systems.
The Gripen's evaluation is part of the MMRCA flight trials, which started in August last, when the F/A-18 Hornets arrived here. These were followed by another American fighter, the F-16IN Super Viper. In September, the French Rafale flew over Bangalore. It was followed by Russia's MiG-35 and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space consortium's Eurofighter Typhoon flew in March.
Once the flight trials are completed, the MMRCA evaluation team headed by the Principal Director, Air Staff Requirements, Air Commodore R.K. Dhir will write the technical report, narrowing down the competition to three or four contenders. Thereafter, the commercial bids will be opened, with the lowest bidder — as per India's defence procurement procedures — winning the contract.