It has superior turnaround time, bombing capabilities

With just a fortnight left for the opening of commercial bids for the Indian military's biggest ever tender, four European nations — the U.K., Germany, Spain and Italy — bidding jointly for 126 fighter planes promised an open door technology transfer and emphasised the superiority of their Eurofighter Typhoon over its sole competitor, the French Rafale, during ongoing operations in Libya

“The technology transfer is very attractive,” said senior officers of the four-nation consortium while senior Royal Air Force officers, sidestepping the morality issue of bombing a sovereign country, claimed that the Typhoon has outperformed the Rafale in Libya.

Asked whether the source code — a bone of contention with the Americans who were knocked out of the competition earlier this year along with the Russians and the Swedish — would also be transferred, they said, “everything is on the table.''

India needs these planes to shore up its falling squadron levels brought about by the retirement of the MiG series but has displayed little desperation, preferring to evaluate both bids on merits. The commercial bids open on the first of next month and available information indicates that the French bid is likely to beat the four-country offer on price. It can restore this imbalance by lower life cycle maintenance costs and higher operational availability.

“There is very strong will to transfer all possible technology,” said senior officials while detailing the technologies that would accrue to the Indian Air Force if New Delhi opted for the Eurofighter's Typhoon. These include Carbon airframe, mission system capabilities and advanced avionics though the kind of radar sought by the IAF is still undergoing development.

British pilots and their commanding officers conducting operations over Libya against the regime of its President Maumar Qadhaffi displayed statistics to prove that out of the 1,000 plus sorties flown by Rafale, Typhoon and Tornado, it was the offering by their home country to India that was superior in terms of turnaround time and bombing capabilities.

While the Saturday's air display at the international air show in this decidedly British rural setting of vales and weeping willows was partly washed out by another decidedly British characteristic — the unpredictable weather — there was no let up in the attempts to hard sell their fighter. All the familiar arguments about precision strike capabilities being trotted out by the American-West European combine since Gulf War-I were also laid out — “we are denying ground to Gaddafi's forces; people are being protected and there are few civilian casualties.”

The approximately $11-billion tender would be a make or break affair for both the French and the four European nation team up. So far 280 Typhoons have been delivered to six countries, said officials trying to make the point that the French Rafale has had no international customers. Though the number of countries opting for the fighter appears impressive, the fact is four of the customers are the ones who are co-producing the planes. That leaves the other two – tiny Austria which does not want some of the features – and the cash rich Saudi Arabia, a perennial customer for Western offerings.

“Our strategic vision is to work in partnership with the Indian industry, to develop and manufacture in India, to meet the requirements of the Indian security forces. This is directly in line with the Indian government's policy to increase self-sufficiency in the defence and security technology/industry,” maintained officials aligned with the companies that have joined hands to produce the Eurofighter Typhoon.

They also sought to underline the previous relationships with India stretching back to the early days of the Indian Air Force — Spitfires, Hawker Hunters, Jaguars, Canberras, Gnats, Sea Harriers (Navy) and Hawk advanced jet trainers. The French too have their compelling arguments to offer since they too have been intimately connected with the Indian military.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony has repeatedly said merits of the plane rather than geo-political considerations would be the prime consideration. The coming days will see India being tested as the two sides step up pressure for what is said to be the mother of all defence deals as far as India is concerned.