Head of Marketing
<< Known for its missiles and missile systems, MBDA is excited about working with India and hopes to further extend the existing partnership. Mati Hindrekus, Head of Marketing Communications, Asia, MBDA, tells us more… >>
Q. Can you tell us about your products?
MBDA is a European company created about ten years ago, following the merger of Europe’s leading guided weapon systems companies, to maintain European capability, sovereignty and to be able to better compete against the sector’s big players in America for example. MBDA has developed very strong skills by integrating national and international requirements and developing cooperative programmes. A lot of the major products in MBDA’s catalogue are those that are a result of cooperative European programmes between countries, for example, the Meteor missile. It is a programme we are developing for Rafael, Eurofighter and the Gripen aircraft. It is a typical example of MBDA working on a cooperate programme which, in this case, sees the development of a world leading weapon to meet the requirements of six different nations and three different aircraft. Meteor is also a missile which interests India for its future requirements of the MMRCA.
Another interesting fact about MBDA is that it is the only company in this sector which is capable of meeting the guided weapons needs of all the three armed forces – the army, the navy and the air force. We are the only company that cover all the three forces. We have a full range of air-to-air, air-to-ground and surfaceto- air, anti-ship weapon systems, and anti-armour guided systems.
We have a very comprehensive portfolio of products. In fact, some of our products actually cover all three armed forces’ requirements. For example, one of our products is the Mistral missile. Mistral has already been ordered by India for its Dhruv helicopters. We are also offering this missile to India to meet its very short-range air defence system (VSHORADS) requirement. Mistral, with its firing success rate of over 96 per cent, is in service with many customers around the world, on ships, vehicles, helicopters, on tripod-mounted systems – that is just to give you an idea of how flexible this and some of our other products are.
Talking about the VSHORADS programme, you are facing a tough competition from Sweden’s Saab and Russia’s KBM. How soon do you expect the contract for this programme to be finalised? How is Mistral different from its competitors?
As far as VSHORADS programme is concerned, I believe additional firings are still planned. These firings are part of the Firing Evaluation Trials (FET) where India asks the competitors to prove certain capabilities of their proposed systems, that is, over different ranges, with different targets, counter-measures conditions and so on. I can’t go into details about the firings so far, and I can’t talk about other competitors’ results but our test firings for India have been fully successful.
It is difficult to compare three very different systems. Obviously we feel that we have all the advantages that will give India the ideal solution to its VSHORAD requirement. If you look at the fundamental differences between the options being proposed, our system is a fire-and-forget system. If you compare that with Saab, we will say that we offer a definite advantage because in the very short-range air defence scenario, you don’t have much time to react. We see the fire-and-forget solution as an easier and much more efficient method. A beam riding system calls for quite a bit of skill on the part of an operator – tracking a target, keeping a beam on the target while it is moving rapidly and perhaps carrying out sharp evasive manoeuvres. There is a strong danger that any last second manoeuver by the target would result in the beam coming off aim. Also, while you are keeping your focus on the incoming target right up to impact as you have to do with a beam riding system, you don’t get much time to react should you miss or should you have a second target that needs to be dealt with. With MBDA’s Mistral MANPADS fire-and-forget system, the operator can very quickly lock on to the target, pull the trigger, and the missile will be released. The operator can then reload and take a second shot or engage another target or, if necessary, pick up his equipment and leave a danger zone. It is very easy to set up and operate, and is lighter than the Saab system. We are talking about a truly man-portable system here. Our missile can easily be carried by two operators – one is required to carry the tripod and the other the missiles. The other missile being offered for the programme is a Russian option, that features a small missile. Although it is designed as a shoulder-mounted system, it is still heavy, you are going to get tired very soon in supporting that weight. I would say the final and the convincing argument in favour of our product is the pure success rate of the Mistral missile. Out of over 4,000 firings, Mistral missiles have managed to score an unprecedented success rate of 96 per cent. No other VSHORAD missile can match that. Also when we talk about the success rate, we are talking about a real hit, not a “technical hit” as described by some of our competitors. Every system has its advantages and disadvantages. Naturally, we feel that we have a lot more advantages than disadvantages. However, to conclude this discussion, I would say that with India already using Mistral missiles on its Dhruv helicopters, it would be advantageous if it opts for the Mistral MANPADS missile. This will help India benefit from the logistic advantages of stock-pile maintenance, management and servicing – all the advantages that come with having one common stock rather than separate stocks. In addition, if India goes for the Mistral MANPADS, then the arrangement is such that there will be a full technology transfer on our part and missiles will be produced under license by BDL in India.
Is BDL your only partner in India or are you partnering with other companies as well?
We are dealing with other companies as well, both small and large, but unfortunately, I can’t name them. We are working with HAL in supplying the Mistral ATAM self defence system for the Dhruv project. BDL has of course been manufacturing the MILAN missile for the Indian Army under license from us for over 35 years. One other important product which we are proposing for Dhruv’s air-to-ground anti-armour capability is the PARS-3 system. The system is already being used by the German Army on their Tiger helicopters. For the Indian requirement, we have been working with a local Indian partner to develop a special launcher for the Dhruv and that is quite advanced. It is a SME company and has worked with European defence companies. And yes, we are liaising very closely with it.
What other products are you offering to India?
We have had a full range of discussions covering numerous potential solutions – obviously some of these are just long term discussions and some are very close to be determined. We have already talked about Mistral MANPADS. We are in discussions to provide India’s chosen MMRCA aircraft with a number of our air-to-air and air-to-ground products, the necessary equipment to ensure that the platform is indeed capable of multi-role missions in the full sense. We are discussing a broad range of weapons here – MICA which has already been ordered for the IAF’s Mirage upgrade, Storm Shadow/ SCALP for the long range stand of cruise missile requirement. In the longer term, India is also interested in the Meteor missile. Meteor is a real game-changer in terms of its capability. In fact, it is considered to be the only real solution to combat the Chinese PL-12. Meteor’s capability is exceptional and places it in a class of its own. It is exceptionally agile and exceptionally long-range and has capabilities far superior to those of other beyond visual range weapons, current or planned.
We talk about no escape zones in the combat environment. An aircraft armed with Meteor can engage and defeat its target well before it comes into the range of the enemy’s own missiles. What makes Meteor so special is that its ramjet motor not only gives it exceptional speed, and thus agility, but it also is smart enough to preserve its maximum thrust until the very end of its flight envelope. Maximum power is needed towards the very end of the missile flight to maintain full agility and to ensure a hit even if the target tries to manoeuvre away. Other products, I won’t go into the details, might claim a similar maximum range but by the time they reach this limit, they have lost all their power and agility and hence their ability to rapidly manoeuvre. The target at this stage of the combat can thus easily evade the incoming threat. The Meteor, on the other hand, has full power, speed and agility during the last phase of the combat, making it impossible for the target aircraft to avoid the missile coming in.
We are also discussing Exocet AM 39 for India’s anti-ship missile requirement on the MMRCA. Discussions are being held on a wide product portfolio range which would enable us to give India the full scope of multi-role capabilities that it is looking for. In the old days, the typical air operation would involve several kinds of aircraft and missions – one to control the air space, another to dominate it and yet another to actually carry out the ground strike. But now multi-role aircraft carry out all these missions. However, for that, you need a full range of missiles – from missiles to ensure your protection in the air to those that would enable you to compete with other air platforms or those which can deliver high precision ground strikes against control bunkers, tanks, fast moving vehicles whatever.
We have recently participated in a series of tests to demonstrate the capabilities of ASRAAM and how well it is suited to provide the above wing pylon air defence missiles on the Jaguar aircraft. The IAF is currently working on a major enhancement programme for Jaguars involving a new engine, new cockpit and so on to provide the fleet with an extended life.
We are also discussing with IAF the advantages of our Dual Mode Brimstone (DMB) missile which is in service with the UK’s RAF. DMB is integrated on the RAF’s Tornado and has been deployed very effectively in recent combats – in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. The missile can be launched either individually or in salvo mode. Its key feature is its dual-mode seeker incorporating a millimetric wave radar as well as a semi-active laser seeker. While the millimetric wave radar seeker gives it the fire-and-forget capability against multiple targets, the semi-active laser seeker provides it with the man in the loop control necessary in a complex environment. In both the cases, the missile is capable of hitting stationary as well as fast-moving targets. This is proving to be very effective as an anti-FIAC solution. FIACs are fast inshore attack craft which are emerging as a significant threat to countries with large coastal regions to control. These small, very fast moving craft are sometimes armed with RPGs or small missiles and can appear in a swarming attack against sensitive targets such as harbour installations, ships in dock and so on. At present, it is very difficult to react to this kind of threat however, DMB has already proved during tests that it can take out such targets very effectively in a coastal combat zone.
How is the MICA deal progressing?
MICA was signed for Mirage in January 2012. I can’t really tell you the details but we are fully confident of delivering the missile within the delivery period that we have agreed upon.
What kind of response are you receiving from other forces – Indian Army or Navy?
As far as Army is concerned, we are providing them Mistral missiles for its Dhruv helicopters. Now we are working very closely with the IAF to determine its future MMRCA requirements. The Navy has recently issued an RFI for an anti- ship weapon and we are offering two solutions there.. One is Exocet, probably one of the best known anti-ship missiles in the world. The latest version of the Exocet, the 200km class MM40 Block3 with the ability to also strike onshore targets as well, is now entering service with quite a few customer countries including France. The other is the Marte ER system which would be an evolution of the already in service Marte MK2/S helicopter launched weapon.
One of the problems that companies often complain about India is that the country’s acquisition process is too slow. Do you also agree with it?
MBDA operates in various countries; we are a global operator so we know we cannot expect every country to operate in the same way. We respect the modus-operandi of each country and each customer we deal with. Some customers have a certain methodology, a certain way of administering the progression of an acquisition. Some decisions do get stretched and it is at times hard to keep the impetus going. But this is a process we accept and we work with. In fact, we are proud to be working with India and hope that we will have the opportunity to further extend the existing partnership. So MBDA has no complaints on this score.