Sandeep Dikshit

European aviation giant sweetens offer for IAF mega tender

MUNICH: Bidding for the mega tender for 126 fighter aircraft, the European aviation giant EADS has sweetened its offer by inviting India to become the fifth country and the first outside Europe to join the ongoing upgrade of Eurofighter aircraft.

EADS is also prepared to involve India in its supersonic jet trainer development programme as well as other futuristic projects such as unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles.

“India would be interested to jump into these. This is one topic that would be discussed with respect to offsets,” said EADS officials.

Offsets are a crucial component of the over $ 10 billion mega tender floated by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the six competitors are conjuring new avenues to ensure that 50 per cent of the contract value is generated within India.

The normal offset value is 30 per cent for big contracts but Defence Minister A.K. Antony insisted that the percentage be hiked to 50 so that the Indian aviation industry becomes more sophisticated and advanced.

“We are in the build-up for phase II of the Eurofighter programme. It will include new equipment and continue to be dynamic. It might be interesting for Indian companies to jump in at phase II and III,” senior EADS official Christian Albert told visiting newspersons at the company’s new Manching plant on the outskirts of Munich.

EADS cited the example of Spain which has benefited by becoming the fourth country to join the Eurofighter development project.

In a production process that is unique in the world, the central fuselage and the right wing is made in Germany, the left wing in Spain and other vital components sourced from the U.K. and Italy.

This process would make it easy for the company to seamlessly source the assembly line to India, something other countries would find it difficult to emulate, suggest company officials.

When Spain joined the programme, it only had the design capability for propeller and jet aircraft. It was also “very poor” in engine manufacturing. After entering the Eurofighter programme, Spain has boosted its aviation capability considerably and 90 per cent of the money is spent in the country itself. The skill of its workers and engineers has also increased.

“This encourages us to invite you,” observes Dr. Albert.

Later, in the basement of a test facility with Eurofighters roaring overhead, test pilot Heinz Spolgen pointed out how the plane’s cockpit was the best in business.

With 80 per cent of the single pilot’s work devoted to weapons control, Wing Commander Spolgen points out that it is vital for the pilot to be comfortable with the plane’s flying characteristics.

“The working place is very good because it is designed for the pilots by the pilots. The cockpit’s controls have been designed after taking inputs from pilots who have flown a variety of American, European and even Soviet-era planes. Therefore the cockpit is more advanced and user-friendly,” he explains.