There are several reasons why India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be disinclined to approve the proposed ‘limited’ upgrade programme involving the 51 Dassault Aviation-built Mirage 2000H/TH multi-role combat aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). Firstly, there is the issue of the techno-economic matrix, meaning whether or not the high expenditure to be incurred is justified. To understand this, one has to note that the term ‘limited’ upgrade excludes the option of re-engining the aircraft. In addition, there are to be no airframe modifications, no changes to major aircraft systems, no modification to equipment bays, limited cockpit modifications, and minimum retrofit line-modification facilities/activities. This would mean that even if the Mirage 2000H/THs are to receive a brand-new open-architecture mission/cockpit avionics suite and see their airframes being refurbished and re-lifed to stay in airworthy condition for the next 20 years, they still will not be able to remain flyable till 2038 (due to the 35-year guaranteed service-life warranty issued by Dassault Aviation) simply because the existing SNECMA Moteurs-built M53P2 turbofans would have reached the end of their certified total technical service lives (TTSL) by 2029.
This then brings us to the issue of costs. As is now known, THALES has refused to reduce its quotation of Rs96.4 billion (US$2.1 billion) for the ‘limited’ upgrade programme of the IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet. The MoD considers this price—Rs1.96 billion ($41 million) per aircraft—unacceptably high, given that the engines will not be changed. THALES, as prime contractor has reportedly offered to deliver the first two upgraded aircraft from its facilities in France within 40 months of signing, while it will help Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) upgrade two more aircraft in India to gain familiarity. Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one aircraft every month, for 47 months. Initially, THALES had quoted $2.9 billion), which it brought down to the current level of $2.1 billion after the IAF diluted its upgrade requirements. The IAF had floated a request for proposal (RFP) for undertaking the ‘limited’ upgrade in April 2008, to which THALES had replied in July 2008. Interestingly, the IAF refused to even consider an alternative option offered by a joint team of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and HAL under which each of the Mirage 2000H/THs can be upgraded for only Rs520 million ($11.5 million). The reason being given by the IAF: a policy decision taken almost a decade ago by the MoD to appoint only the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM)—like Dassault Aviation and THALES in case of the Mirage 2000—as prime contractors for all aircraft upgrade programmes—be they ‘limited’ or ‘deep’ in terms of the scope of work. But if this is indeed the case, then how come the MoD had appointed HAL as the prime contractor when carrying out the Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH) programme (codenamed Project Tiger) for 14 BAE Systems-built Sea Harrier carrier-based V/STOL combat aircraft between March 2005 and December 2009? And why was the DARIN-2 mission avionics upgrade programme for the IAF’s fleet of Jaguar IS/IM interdictor/strike aircraft carried out jointly by HAL and the DRDO in the late 1990s without appointing BAE Systems as the prime contractor? And what about the limited upgrade programme involving the IAF’s MiG-27M strike aircraft, which too was carried out jointly by HAL and the DRDO without any participation by Russia’s United Aircraft Corp? And if one is to safely assume that over the years both HAL and the DRDO have acquired the core technological competencies (thanks to the investments made in the Tejas LCA’s R & D effort) required for indigenously designing and developing open-architecture mission/cockpit avionics suites meant for both Europe-origin and Russia-origin combat aircraft, then why is HAL being prevented from being appointed as the prime contractor for the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme, especially when it is the French themselves who are now ‘advising’ the IAF to instead invest the huge sums of money (earmarked for the ‘limited’ upgrade) in the forthcoming M-MRCA procurement effort?
There is also another point to be noted: for reasons best known to them, both Dassault Aviation and THALES have, over the past decade, failed to offer a range of ‘limited’ upgrade options for the Mirage 2000—more than 600 of which have been built for nine air forces worldwide. One would like to believe that companies like Dassault Aviation, THALES and Sagem Défense Sécurité would be actively promoting their respective aircraft service life extension/avionics suite upgrade packages to countries like Brazil (with 10 ex-French Air Force Mirage 2000Cs and two Mirage-2000Bs), Egypt (16 single-seat Mirage-2000Ms and four tandem-seat Mirage-2000BMs), France (87 Mirage-2000Cs, 30 Mirage 2000Bs, 75 Mirage-2000Ns, 37 Mirage 2000-5F, and 86 Mirage-2000Ds, Greece (36 single-seat Mirage 2000EGs and four tandem-seat Mirage-2000 2000BGs and 15 Mirage 2000-5 Mk2s), India (52 Mirage-2000Hs and seven Mirage-2000THs), Peru (10 Mirage-2000Ps and two Mirage-2000DPs), Qatar (nine Mirage-2000-5EDAs and three Mirage-2000-5DDAs), Taiwan (48 Mirage-2000-5EIs and 12 Mirage-2000-5DIs), and the United Arab Emirates (22 Mirage-2000EADs, eight Mirage-2000RADs, six Mirage-2000DADs, 20 Mirage-2000-9s and 12 Mirage-2000-9Ds). However, it is the opposite that holds true.
As far back as early 2007 both Dassault Aviation and THALES had a golden opportunity to offer a new-generation mission/cockpit avionics suite for prospective Mirage 2000 upgrade programmes when the French Centre d'Experiences Aeriennes Militaires (CEAM, or Military Aerial Experimentation Center) and the CEV flight-test center in Cazaux, southwest France, modified a Mirage 2000 B501 to flight-qualify the combination of the THALES-built Radar à Balayage Electronique-2 (RBE-2) AESA-MMR and the Optronique Secteur Frontal (OSF) infra-red search-and-track (IRST) sensor for eventual fitment into the Rafale M-MRCA. If at that time THALES had taken a decision to develop lower-cost derivatives of both the RBE-2 and OSF as viable retrofit options (like what Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and IAI/ELTA Systems are now doing with the SABR, RACR and EL/M-2052 AESA-MMRs and what SELEX Galileo is doing with the Skyward IRST sensor) for the Mirage 2000, then THALES today would have been in an enviable position, especially in India. Since this has not happened, it makes little sense for the IAF now to opt for a mission avionics package that uses a RDY-2 X-band multifunction Doppler radar with a mechanically scanning antenna and which is devoid of an IRST sensor.
A far better option, therefore, could see the IAF selecting a package co-offered by HAL and IAI that would comprise a fully integrated but open-architecture mission avionics suite (integrated by the Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment, or DARE) to include a new-generation mission computer; AESA-MMR; an IRST sensor; helmet-mounted display (HMD); two-way airborne data-links for communicating with friendly combat aircraft, AEW & C platforms and unmanned aerial vehicles; an integrated defensive aids suite (IDAS) that includes a combined radar/missile approach warning system, countermeasures dispenser, and an internal self-protection jammer; an air-to-air/air-to-ground software-defined radio system that harnesses the power of its distinctive automatic routing and relay capabilities to offer extended range, while offering video, voice and data simultaneously at an exceptionally high data rate; a laser designator pod; tactical reconnaissance pod; and escort jamming pod. Structurally, the aircraft’s weapons pylons could be modified to accept triple-ejector racks capable of launching precision-guided munitions (PGM) like the 125kg/250kg AASM (from the France-based Sagem Défense Sécurité subsidiary of the SAFRAN Group) laser-/GPS-/imaging infra-red sensor-equipped standoff munition, small-diameter laser-guided bombs, and CBU-105 sensor-fuzed weapons from Textron Systems. As far as the X-band AESA-based MMR goes, the EL/M-2052 would be the ideal choice, while the IRST sensor could be SELEX Galileo of Italy’s 55kg Skyward. The HMD could come from Elbit Systems. HAL could supply the RAM-1701AS radio altimeter, TACAN-2901AJ and DME-2950A tactical air navigation system combined with the ANS-1100A VOL/ILS marker, CIT-4000A Mk12 IFF transponder, COM-1150A UHF standby comms radio, UHF SATCOM transceiver, and the SDR-2010 SoftNET four-channel software-defined radio (working in VHF/UHF and L-band for voice and data communications), and the Bheem-EU brake control/engine/electrical monitoring system, all of which have been developed in-house by the Hyderabad-based Strategic Electronics R & D Centre of HAL. The open-architecture IDAS, which has been under joint development by DARE and Germany-based Cassidian since 2006, would include the AAR-60(V)2 MILDS F missile approach warning system, the EW management computer and Tarang Mk3 radar warning receiver (developed by DARE and built by Bharat Electronics Ltd), and countermeasures dispenser built by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. Contenders for supplying the pod-mounted escort jammer could include IAI/ELTA with its ELL-8251, and RAFAEL’s Skyshield. For self-protection, Elettronica of Italy’s Virgilius family of directional jammers (as part of the IDAS suite), which make use of active phased-array transmitters for jamming hostile low-band (E-G) and high-band (G-J) emitters, could be installed. For tactical strike missions, the Mirage 2000 could be equipped with the Litening-3 LDP and RecceLite tactical reconnaissance pod—both built by RAFAEL.
There is also an urgent need by the MoD to take a final call on the proposed ‘deep’ upgrade package for up to 100 MiG-27Ms, which has been under consideration since 2006. Under this proposal, HAL and the DRDO will be supplying an open-architecture mission/cockpit avionics package similar to the DARIN-3 package already developed by HAL and the DRDO for the 120 to-be-re-engined Jaguar IS interdictors. On the other hand, United Aircraft Corp along with HAL and MMPP Salyut will re-engine the MiG-27Ms with the 99-30S turbofan, which is derived from the NPO Saturn-built AL-31FP turbofan already powering the IAF’s Su-30MKIs. The 99-30S turbofan offers increased thrust (1 ton more than the existing Klimov R29B-300), is lighter by 200kg, and offers fuel savings of up to 15%.—Prasun K. Sengupta