Thursday, April 30, 2015

India Changes Its Mind On Rafale

As previously anticipated, India has decided to go in another direction with regards to the acquisition of Rafale fighter aircraft from France. It was originally planned to acquire 126 Rafale, 18 delivered straight from France and the remaining aircraft were to be produced locally under license in India.

Negotiations since 2012 have failed to produce an agreement and India now plans to purchase 36 aircraft directly from France. Assuming this goes through, India would follow Egypt as the second buyer of the Rafale outside of France.

This would mark a sharp turnaround for France which for a long time did not have any export customer for the Rafale. Meanwhile, other European aircraft such as the Typhoon and the Gripen have been able to secure contracts some time ago.

Two contracts for the Rafale in 2015 in just a few months would be quite an accomplishment. The number of aircraft sold may not be as high for France with 36 instead of 126, but more would be produced in France than was originally planned. It ties up India as a long-term customer and it's possible than India may purchase more in the future.

While a Rafale acquisition is a clear win for France, it's a different story for India. No aircraft are to be manufactured in India. Purchasing limited numbers of a new type of aircraft further aggravates the problem of India having too many types of aircraft in limited numbers making logistics more difficult.

A straight-up purchase of 36 aircraft is a compromise for India between the original plan and walking away. The latter option would be very hard to do after so much has been invested in the MMRCA project, which dates as far back as the late nineties.

However, in the long run India might be better off by not pursuing the original plan. That would have cost too much hard currency, which India has in short supply. By going for a smaller purchase, India frees up most of what would have been taken up by the Rafale leaving not much room for anything else. It may not be the ideal move for India, but it's better than what they were doing before.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shaanxi Y30 and Y9 Military Transport Aircraft in China

The Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation displayed the turboprop Y-30, a new medium transport aircraft, in model form at the 2014 Zhuhai Airshow. The Y-30 would succeed the current Shaanxi Y-9, which in turn succeeded the Y-8 in Chinese service.

Back in the late nineties when China first announced a replacement for the Y-8, the planned aircraft was known as the Y-8X. Over time this new aircraft gradually evolved into what is now known as the Y-9 from Shaanxi.

While the Y-9 is a significant improvement over the original Y-8, it's much less ambitious with less performance than what the Y-8X was supposed to be. The Y-9 is more like a radically improved Y-8 than a clean sheet design from the ground up.

With the new Y-30 design, Shaanxi comes closer to what the Y-8X was originally supposed to be and more. For instance, dimensions of the cargo hold will be more optimized and payload will be increased to above 30 tons. Shaanxi would go from a Y-9, which is comparable to the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30, to something that is somewhat below the Airbus A-400M.

This would make the Y-30 compatible with newer generation wheeled vehicles, which are becoming bigger and heavier. For instance, the Type 09 vehicles, which are set to become the backbone of China's land forces, would be able to utilize the Y-30 and not have to rely on the heavier Xian Y-20. The basic version of these come in at least 20 tons and more depending on the version.

The Xian Aircraft Corporation, which is now developing the Y-20, has also offered an alternative to the Y-30 from Shaanxi in the Y-19. The main difference is that the Y-19 will be powered by two turbofans and not turboprops as in the Y-9 and Y-30.

As for the Y-9 which has now entered service in China, it was displayed with a range of vehicles that are compatible with the Y-9 platform. Included were:
  • The Type 03 or ZBD03 (ZLC-2000), a light-weight, tracked infantry fighting vehicle which can be airdropped. The 8 ton ZBD03 is amphibious and is fitted with a one man turret armed with a 30 mm gun and anti-tank missiles. Somewhat comparable to the Russian BMD-3.
  • Norinco AH-4, a light-weight, 155 mm, 39 caliber towed  howitzer weighing 3 to 4 tons. Somewhat comparable to the American M777.
  • Norinco CS/SH-1, a self-propelled 122 mm howitzer mounted on a 4x4 vehicle.
  • Various other light vehicles such as the 4x4 CS/VN-3.
Also worth mentioning is that the Y-9s in Chinese service come with a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) which should help during bad weather. Most other aircraft around the world only include it as an option on selected aircraft only.

Credit original poster, via Chinese Internet

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Egypt Is The First Buyer of French Rafale and the Second of FREMM Frigate

Egypt has agreed to buy 24 Rafale fighter aircraft from France, ending the French quest to find the first export customer for the Rafale which had its first flight all the way back in 1986.

Prior to this, France had lost in several countries against fighter aircraft from other countries, such as the F-16, Typhoon and the Gripen. This includes countries such as Morocco and Brazil where it had initially been considered the favorite to win, but in the end lost out to someone else.

Ironically, Egypt also happens to be the first export destination of the Mirage 2000, the predecessor of the Rafale. There are still about 18 Mirage 2000 in service with the Egyptian Air Force.

In the near future, France is looking at additional customers for the Rafale in Qatar and India, both of which have operated the Mirage 2000. Other countries where the Rafale is hoping to secure a contract in the more distant future is Malaysia.

Egypt also becomes the second customer of the French-Italian FREMM frigate after Morocco, which, like Egypt, ordered a single ship in 2008. This ship was delivered to Morocco in 2014 and is more similar to the French version of the FREMM than the Italian version.

Besides Morocco, France has two FREMM frigates and Italy has another four frigates. In all, Egypt has spent over 5 billion euros on new acquisitions. France is expected to provide loans to Egypt to help cover the purchases.