The Blog

The Swedish Model

How to build a jet fighter.

11:45 PM, Apr 30, 2008 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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(The fact that the F-117A design is said to be outmoded and made obsolete by these newer model fighters did not keep the US Air Force from continuing to engage in needlessly silly security arrangements. The world's most famous and experienced air-to-air aircraft photographer, Katsuhiko Tokunaga of Japan, was barred from the retirement ceremony on the grounds that "no foreigners at all are allowed." This despite the fact that he has flown more than 1,000 hours in the rear seats of almost all U.S. fighters and has completed some of the most extensive air-to-air photography of the--supposedly--much more advanced F-22A.)

On Monday the Indian Ministry of Defence accepted bids from six U.S. and foreign competitors for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) program. The $10 billion-plus program is the PowerBall lotto of fighter aircraft sales and will be the largest procurement of a military aircraft by a export customer in more than three decades.

The JAS-39, because of its reasonable cost and the many improvements made in the Gripen N/G configuration, is one of the odds-on favourites in this competition. Eurofighter, the MiG-35, Rafale, F-16, and F/A-18 are all in the bidding, but the Swedish bid is considered by some to be the one proposal that will meet all of India's requirements. (Gripen's India-based team were carrying the shrink-wrapped proposal in their cabin baggage on the flight back to New Delhi after this week's rollout ceremony.)

How India decides will say a lot about how the future military aircraft business develops worldwide. If New Delhi's decision makers opt for the Gripen, the whole concept of teaming and multinational program needs to be re-examined - as does the heavy US emphasis on RCS as the primary design criteria. With other future military programs starting to form up as more "team" projects, such as the USAF Next Generation Bomber (NGB), these are considerations that need to be addressed now rather than later.

Reuben F. Johnson is a contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.