India's decision in favor of the Dassault Rafale is a big deal. Not only is a 126-fighter order the biggest single sale in sight for a long time, but -- as long as the deal is closed and executed successfully -- it is a huge boost for the Rafale at a point where the fighter business is in flux, and after two notable setbacks for the French industry late last year.
Those setbacks were the United Arab Emirates' announcement at the Dubai air show that it was unhappy with the terms of the Rafale deal offered by France, and Switzerland's choice of the Gripen. The India win makes the latter look like small potatoes, while a signed-and-sealed deal with India covers many of the upgrades that were bones of contention in the protracted UAE negotiation.
For the same reason, Rafale's chances in Brazil have probably improved. But this could be a case of "be careful what you wish for". As I noted in last June's DTI:
The (India) program will be doing several things simultaneously: co-developing improvements such as an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and Meteor AAM integration; dealing with the obsolescence issues that are inevitable in long aircraft development cycles; transferring technology and launching joint indigenous production; and transplanting a very complex all-digital aircraft into the Indian air force, all on a tight timescale. If Rafale wins, and is also successful in Brazil, Dassault and its partners – Safran and Thales – will be doing much the same thing, 9,000 miles from India.And, might I add, in an entirely different linguistic, cultural, political and economic environment. Bonne chance avec ca.
The win also follows the Libya campaign, where both the Typhoon and the Rafale were used. However, while the Typhoon was only multi-role thanks to a non-definitive, somewhat-MacGyvered targeting pod and weapon fit, Rafale had two variants of the fully integrated Sagem Hammer stand-off guided bomb (six of which can be carried on two pylons), with a third on the way, and provided near-real-time intelligence with the Areos long range oblique photography reconnaissance pod.
The decision is a big disappointment for Eurofighter, where my impression was that many people felt that they were headed for an India win, after Rafale's discomfiture in the UAE. And while Typhoon will still have more orders than Rafale in total, Eurofighter now has to return to persuading its sometimes ragged formation of partners -- two of them representing the I and S of PIGS -- to continue to fund the Captor-E active electronically scanned array radar and the rest of its multi-role evolution.
And if the Joint Strike Fighter plan to take over the rest of the world does not stay on track, what happens to European fighter aircraft could be very important well into the 2020s.
Read additional reporting and reader comments:
+ Rafale Wins Indian Fighter Competition
+ India Declares Rafale 'Lowest Bidder' In Fighter Contest