The Indian Air Force plans to conclude within a year the flight evaluation and performance trials of all six competitors vying to bag its order for 126 Medium Multi Range Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

It will then present its assessment of each aircraft to the government.

The IAF has drawn up an elaborate schedule to test the efficacy of the aircraft on three counts: operational, systems and armaments, IAF officers familiar with the process said here. The MMRCA is expected to serve the country for the next three decades with periodic upgrades.

The process took off with Boeing flying in F/A-18 Super Hornets, along with a team of 50 personnel for the trials in Bangalore. The aircraft will also be tested at Leh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jaisalmer and Rajasthan. The firing and weapons testing will be done at the manufacturer’s home country.

The other competitors are Anglo-Swedish Gripen, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Super Viper, Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian United Aircraft Corporation’s MiG 35 and French Dassault Aviation’s Rafale.

The officers said the technical proposal, which formed part of the process, specified how each vendor would have to meet the Service Qualitative Requirements (SQR) mentioned in the Request for Proposal issued last year before the IAF started technical evaluation.

Stability, control, safety issues, range and endurance are some of the factors that will be considered during the flight and performance evaluation.

The exercise also involves testing the systems on board such as radar, navigation equipment, self-defence suites and electronic warfare devices. Armaments will be tested in the final phase.

For the first time, the IAF will work out the cost of ownership of each aircraft. This means evaluating factors such as the life of the engine, the cost of overhaul/replacement of engine and the cost to maintain these aircraft by establishing ground support.

“It is a multi-faceted evaluation that includes flight-test pilots, flight-test engineers and operational pilots and engineers. We do not compare one aircraft with another, but evaluate against its ability to meet our requirements and arrive at a through and methodical conclusion. There are no extra points for anyone crossing the minimum [SQR] requirements,” the officials said.

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