IAF to Get Another 36 Rafale Com­bat Air­craft

India Strategic - - COVER STORY - By Gul­shan Luthra

NEW DELHI. The Gov­ern­ment is likely to ap­prove at least another 36 Rafale Medium Multi Role Com­bat Air­craft (MMRCAs) very soon. De­tails are not known but in­formed sources told In­dia Strate­gic that although a de­ci­sion was just about due, the pos­si­bil­ity of more air­craft was also be­ing con­sid­ered in view of the In­dian Navy’s re­quire­ment of 57 twin-en­gine ship­board fight­ers as also the Gov­ern­ment’s Make in In­dia pro­gramme. If only 36 Rafales are taken, then it would not be eco­nom­i­cal to set up their man­u­fac­tur­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

IAF is look­ing for a mix of about 400 sin­gle and twin en­gine fight­ers as most of its com­bat jet in­ven­tory is of the 1980s Soviet gen­er­a­tion. The Mirage 2000, which was ac­quired from France af­ter the US gave Pak­istan F-16s in 1982, also ar­rived in IAF squadrons from 1985 on­wards.

The nu­clear-ca­pa­ble Mirage 2000 though is still for­mi­da­ble and some half a dozen of the nearly 60 have al­ready been up­graded to con­tem­po­rary stan­dards by Thales, the French com­pany known for mak­ing deadly Elec­tronic War­fare (EW) sys­tems. Thales is pro­vid­ing the highly so­phis­ti­cated EW sys­tems for the Rafales also.

The In­dian Navy has ex­pressed spe­cific pref­er­ence for ei­ther Boe­ing F/ A 18 Su­per Hor­net or the Rafale. Both th­ese fight­ers were de­signed ab ini­tio for air­craft car­ri­ers, and both are on of­fer for their in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion in In­dia if the num­bers are vi­able for for­eign in­vest­ment and Trans­fer of Tech­nol­ogy (ToT). Boe­ing has of­fered to man­u­fac­ture the lat­est vari­ant, Ad­vanced Su­per Hor­net, which is also meant for the US Navy.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, if the deal is only for 36 more air­craft, then the field would be open for a larger num­ber of twin-en­gine air­craft for both the IAF and Navy. If the com­ing deal is for in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion for more than 36, then Rafale would be­come the fi­nal choice.

No­tably, de­fence deals are mostly done with strate­gic ad­van­tages in view. For in­stance, in the 1980s, the Gov­ern­ment asked Air In­dia to switch its choice from Boe­ings to Air­bus A 320 air­craft as, ac­cord­ing to French sources, France gave In­dia some de­fence tech­nol­ogy as a lever­age.

It may be re­called that In­dia had opted for the French Rafale in 2015 dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to Paris, and an agree­ment was sealed in New Delhi be­tween the De­fence Min­is­ters of the two coun­tries, Mr Manohar Par­rikar and his vis­it­ing coun­ter­part, Mr Jean Yves Le Drian, in Septem­ber 2016. The first pay­ment of 15 per cent was im­me­di­ately made by In­dia to seal the con­tract.

This deal, which in­cluded the cost of the air­craft, IAF-spe­cific mod­i­fi­ca­tions, Weapons and Mis­siles, Op­er­a­tions and Main­te­nance in­fra­struc­ture at two places in In­dia’s East and West, and 50 per cent Off­sets as in­vest­ment in In­dia, was pegged at about Euro 7.87 bil­lion (or US$8.8 bil­lion).

In the ac­qui­si­tion of another 36 air­craft, or two squadrons of 18 each, the costs should be lower by about Euro 2.5 bil­lion plus or mi­nus – please note this is my guessti­mate only – as the ex­penses for In­dia- spe­cific mod­i­fi­ca­tions and in­fra­struc­ture at two places have al­ready been re­cov­ered. No­tably, pre­lim­i­nary work in this re­gard at Am­bala in Haryana and Hashimara in West Ben­gal has be­gun.

It is not known if in the com­ing deal there would be an Op­tions clause for more air­craft at the same price in the near fu­ture. It was not there in the first pur­chase, which was ac­qui­si­tion of the 36 air­craft in fly­away con­di­tion.

Both th­ese deals are G- to- G or Gov­ern­ment to Gov­ern­ment, to avoid any un­nec­es­sary al­le­ga­tions, which have in­vari­ably been a curse for the armed forces in their mod­erni­sa­tion process over the last about 25 years.

The Off­sets clause would trans­late into con­struc­tion of a mod­ern de­fence in­dus­trial base as well as some ToT by the Rafale part­ners, that is, Das­sault which builds and in­te­grates the air­craft, Safran which pro­vides the en­gines and some other on­board sys­tems, Thales which pro­vides the highly ad­vanced EW sys­tems and MBDA, which is sup­ply­ing the most mod­ern Me­teor Air-to-Air and other mis­siles. As an in­ter­na­tional arms in­dus­try stan­dard, de­liv­ery of de­fence sys­tems is 36 months af­ter the first pay­ment.

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