IAF Poised for New Com­bat Air­craft

India Strategic - - EDITORIAL - Gul­shan Rai Luthra

The In­dian Air Force has fi­nally got the deal for new com­bat air­craft, and the one it se­lected as its choice af­ter a rig­or­ous process. The num­ber of Rafale jets con­tracted with France though is small, just 36 or two squadrons if one con­sid­ers the ob­so­les­cence fac­tor that is fast de­plet­ing IAF’s nu­mer­i­cal strength. None­the­less, the Govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to con­clude the Rafale deal in about 18 months af­ter the eight-year long MMRCA com­pe­ti­tion for 126 (plus 63 options) was scrapped is en­cour­ag­ing, par­tic­u­larly as the Min­istry of De­fence has mostly been in a state of paral­y­sis post the ac­qui­si­tion of Bo­fors, which drew al­le­ga­tions of poor qual­ity and bribes from politi­cians and me­dia.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who had per­son­ally steered the deal with French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, de­serves ku­dos, and diplo­mat­i­cally, the deal calls for bi­lat­eral con­grat­u­la­tions and cham­pagne the way the French are cel­e­brat­ing. For IAF, it’s lit­er­ally a new be­gin­ning in this mil­len­nium, as most of its MiG se­ries of air­craft as well as the French Mi­rage and An­glo-French Jaguars are of the 1970s and 1980s gen­er­a­tion. The Air Dom­i­nance Su-30 MKI, which was con­tracted in 1996 with Rus­sia, is be­ing made in In­dia and although its on­board sys­tems are up­dated reg­u­larly, the over­all avail­abil­ity of the air­craft is just about 50-plus per cent. In the case of Rafale, there is a very im­por­tant guar­an­tee clause to as­sure its avail­abil­ity at 75 per cent at any given time.

A smil­ing Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha, told In­dia Strate­gic that the Govern­ment is favourably con­sid­er­ing to set up a sec­ond air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing line un­der Make in In­dia projects (in ad­di­tion to that of LCA at HAL). Be­sides the US Boe­ing F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net and Lock­heed Martin F-16 Su­per Viper (Block 70), and Swedish Saab Gripen NG, he added, IAF is open for projects for Rafale and Eurofighter also but only un­der Make in In­dia pro­grammes. Many for­eign com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in In­dia say that while they want to do busi­ness, the un­cer­tain­ties over time­lines in de­ci­sion mak­ing are de­ter­ring, and of­fi­cers in the MoD keep pass­ing on files to one an­other with­out record­ing con­clu­sive points. This com­plaint often comes from the armed forces also, who have to change spec­i­fi­ca­tions if, for in­stance, there is no de­ci­sion for long for a cer­tain item, and dur­ing the years of con­sid­er­a­tion, new tech­nolo­gies come in.

The Prime Min­is­ter had laid down Skill, Scale and Speed as the re­quire­ment for the coun­try’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment af­ter tak­ing over the reins of the coun­try a cou­ple of years ago. He needs to as­sure serv­ing and re­tired bu­reau­crats, and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in­volved in se­lec­tion of var­i­ous weapons and sys­tems, that the Govern­ment will pay no heed to the curse of al­le­ga­tions, most of which stem from com­pet­ing in­ter­ests and their paid agents.

The coun­try has suf­fered enough, and the armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force as well as para­mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions ur­gently need new weapons and sys­tems. Their job is to de­ter an en­emy or delete him; they must be em­pow­ered with what they ask for.

En­sur­ing com­pe­ti­tion and speed in de­ci­sion mak­ing will do won­ders for creat­ing a mod­ern de­fence in­dus­trial in­fra­struc­ture.

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