India's MMRCA: Cut and Thrust - Asian Skies
These are interesting times for India's Air Force. Somewhere in its colonnaded Delhi headquarters a massive team is poring over tens of thousands of pages about the six fighters in the 126-aircraft MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) competition.
Aside from the 6,000-7,000 pages each company provided - the contenders are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Saab, Dassault, Eurofighter, and RSK Mig - the IAF generated tons of data during the lengthy field trials of each aircraft.
An IAF official told me last week that the Air Force chief likes to joke that the IAF could provide consulting service to other countries on how to pick an airplane. The chief also, apparently, says cocktail parties are not as much fun: a nod to this person, or a smile to another, could be construed as an endorsement of a certain plane.
Who is winning? The fervid Indian press seems to throw up a new favourite every week. A discussion with anyone in the aviation sector inevitably veers toward the MMRCA. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a favourite, but nobody really knows.
With $10 billion at stake the MMRCA deal is of tremendous importance for each of the companies (and countries) involved in the bidding. Indeed, the MMRCA could well decide the future of certain programmes.
This was clear in my discussions with the manufacturers last week. In my journalism career I've rarely had interview subjects convey such passion about their wares. It was all tremendously informative, and in my view every aircraft looks terrific.
But in the end there can be only one.
John Doe: There is a photo of the Eurofighter Typhoon here