More Rafale for IAF



ON AU­GUST 22 THIS year, the In­dian me­dia car­ried a re­port spec­u­lat­ing on the like­li­hood of the Gov­ern­ment ap­prov­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of 36 Rafale com­bat jets for the In­dian Air Force (IAF). This will be in ad­di­tion to a sim­i­lar num­ber al­ready con­tracted for on Septem­ber 24, 2016 with M/S Das­sault Avi­a­tion of France. Ear­lier on, an iden­ti­cal re­port had ap­peared in the me­dia on Jan­uary 13, 2017 as well as dur­ing Aero In­dia Air­show in Fe­bru­ary 2017. De­liv­ery of the first lot of 36 air­craft con­tracted for, is sched­uled to com­mence in 2019 and is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2022. It is un­der­stood that the IAF has put up a pro­posal to the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) for the pro­cure­ment of an­other 36 Rafale jets. How­ever, the lat­est re­port in the me­dia men­tioned above has rekin­dled hopes for the com­bat fleet of the IAF that over the last decade, has suf­fered de­bil­i­tat­ing ero­sion in its op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity on ac­count of manda­tory re­tire­ment from ser­vice of fleets of com­bat air­craft that have been over­taken by ob­so­les­cence. The prob­lem has been com­pounded by the fact that at­tempts by the IAF to in­duct mod­ern fourth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft to re­place those be­ing phased out, have not been suc­cess­ful. Be­sides, there has been in­or­di­nate de­lay in the op­er­a­tional­i­sa­tion of the in­dige­nous light com­bat air­craft Te­jas and one still can­not be very op­ti­mistic about its prospects in the fu­ture. All these fac­tors have led to a vir­tual cri­sis for not only the IAF, but for the na­tion as well. The es­ca­lat­ing ten­sion with China has served to ag­gra­vate the sit­u­a­tion fur­ther pro­pel­ling it to such a level that it has be­come a mat­ter of na­tional con­cern.

Given the state the IAF is in to­day, there is no doubt that there is ur­gent need to in­duct mod­ern fourth-gen­er­a­tion com­bat air­craft in the num­bers re­quired and as soon as pos­si­ble. To­day, the com­bat fleet of the IAF is de­fi­cient of 200 air­craft which is equiv­a­lent of around ten squadrons. With the re­tire­ment from ser­vice of the fleets of MiG-21 Bi­son and MiG-27 air­craft by 2005, the short­ages will only in­crease and the de­fi­ciency fig­ure could go up to 400. In­duc­tion of 36 Rafale jets al­ready con­tracted for, will pro­vide only par­tial re­lief for the com­bat fleet of the IAF as it will en­hance the size of the fleet by a mere two squadrons. Just be­fore demit­ting of­fice, Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha, the pre­vi­ous Chief of the Air Staff had said that the IAF would need to in­duct around 200 to 250 Rafale jets if it has to re­tain the op­er­a­tional edge over the two ad­ver­saries.

The IAF has good rea­son to bid for ad­di­tional Rafale jets. The con­tract for the first lot of 36 air­craft has a built-in Off­set obli­ga­tion of 50 per cent to be in­vested by the French orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer (OEM) in the In­dian aerospace in­dus­try. As the OEM would have to es­tab­lish fa­cil­i­ties to man­u­fac­ture com­po­nents of the Rafale jet as also spare parts to meet with life cy­cle re­quire­ments, the quan­tum of in­vest­ment re­quired to be made by the OEM would be size­able and some­what dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the size of the con­tract if the num­ber re­mains at 36. It is only log­i­cal there­fore, that the OEM would like to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to en­hance the size of the con­tract with the IAF for Rafale jets. For the IAF as well, apart from the need to make up for the de­fi­cien­cies in the com­bat fleet, lim­it­ing the size of the fleet of Rafale jets to just 36 would trans­late into high per air­craft main­te­nance cost for the IAF in the long term. Not only for the restora­tion of op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity, but for fi­nan­cial rea­sons as well, the IAF con­sid­ers in­duc­tion of a larger fleet of Rafale jets a prag­matic op­tion.

What is of sig­nif­i­cance at this point in time is that the con­text in which the re­port of Au­gust 22, 2017 con­cern­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ac­qui­si­tion of ad­di­tional 36 Rafale jets has ap­peared in the me­dia, is some­what at vari­ance with that as­so­ci­ated with the con­text of the re­port that ap­peared in Jan­uary 2017. The Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) has floated a Re­quest for In­for­ma­tion (RFI) for 57 twin-en­gine fighter jets ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing from an air­craft car­rier. These plat­forms are re­quired by the In­dian Navy for the in­dige­nous air­craft car­rier named as INS Vikrant be­ing man­u­fac­tured by the Cochin Ship­yard. The In­dian Navy has two op­tions in re­spect of choice of plat­form. There is the F/A 18 Su­per Hor­net from Boe­ing De­fence, Space and Se­cu­rity (BDS) of the United States as also there is the Rafale jet, both twin-en­gine plat­forms. Since the IAF is al­ready in the process of ac­quir­ing 36 Rafale jets, it would be ap­pro­pri­ate if the In­dian Navy also se­lects this plat­form for INS Vikrant, tak­ing the to­tal num­ber of Rafale jets to 93. If this hap­pens, it will be eas­ier for the IAF to pro­cure an­other 36 Rafale jets or even more to take the to­tal num­ber to a fig­ure that would make it a vi­able propo­si­tion for the OEM to man­u­fac­ture the plat­form in In­dia un­der the Make in In­dia pro­gramme of the Modi-led NDA Gov­ern­ment. This would also be in con­form­ity with the pro­nounce­ments made by Manohar Par­rikar, the former Min­is­ter of De­fence that the Min­istry would ex­plore op­tions for man­u­fac­tur­ing twinengine fighter jets in large num­bers for the IAF. This would help the IAF tackle the cri­sis it is fac­ing at present.

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