IAF De­serves Rafale Don’t Has­sle the Deal

There must be se­ri­ous in­tro­spec­tion on how the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion should de­bate de­fence ac­qui­si­tion in a con­struc­tive man­ner and ar­rive at con­sen­sus with­out block­ing the process


2019 is the elec­tion year in In­dia and it is the time for ris­ing po­lit­i­cal de­bates. A win­ning point could make a win­ning change in the out­come – or so it is be­lieved. It does not mat­ter what the sub­ject is, but it is im­por­tant to get trac­tion. One could view the re­cent de­bates on the Rafale ac­qui­si­tion in this con­text. The govern­ment has de­cided to ac­quire 36 Rafale fighter jets di­rectly from Das­sault Avi­a­tion of France through an in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal con­tract can­celling the de­ci­sion made by the ear­lier govern­ment, the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance (UPA) to ac­quire 126 of th­ese. With less than a year to com­mence de­liv­ery of the 36 now on order, the op­po­si­tion has dug out some con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the deal. From dis­cred­it­ing the deal to ques­tion­ing the Govern­ment and its mo­tives for chang­ing the terms of the deal from its orig­i­nal form, the pub­lic de­bate has taken an un­pleas­ant turn. The op­po­si­tion is well aware of the in­abil­ity of the Govern­ment to pub­licly share the de­tails of the con­tract due to the se­crecy clauses present in the var­i­ous in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal agree­ments. In re­sponse, the Govern­ment has been strong in its re­ac­tions to th­ese al­le­ga­tions. Sadly, this re­tal­ia­tory and hos­tile form of po­lit­i­cal de­bate does not ben­e­fit any­one, least of all the na­tion. There is a se­ri­ous worry on our abil­ity to cope with the de­mands that may arise to se­cure our na­tion if the strength of the com­bat fleet in the In­dian Air Force (IAF) gets de­pleted as was hap­pen­ing.


Com­bat squadrons in the IAF have been de­plet­ing steadily due

To over­come the hur­dle and to meet ur­gent re­quire­ments, the IAF pro­jected a min­i­mal need for 36 air­craft to avoid a se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion

to the re­tire­ment of old air­craft fleets. Re­place­ment was not forth­com­ing. The last of the MIG-21s that are still be­ing flown, would re­tire shortly. The IAF is prob­a­bly down to 31 squadrons from the au­tho­rised level of 42 and the strength is ex­pected to go down fur­ther. Any new in­duc­tion takes time to ar­rive and op­er­a­tionalise. A few SU-30MKI that are still to be pro­duced would be de­liv­ered in a year or so. The Light Com­bat Air­craft (LCA) Te­jas as an op­er­a­tional sys­tem is still evolv­ing. The pro­duc­tion rate of the LCA Te­jas is very slow though at­tempts are be­ing made to speed things up. Even if all th­ese pro­duc­tions fruc­tify, it would still not ar­rest the rate of depletion of com­bat Squadrons.


The Air Staff Re­quire­ment (ASR) for Medium Multi-Role Com­bat Air­craft (MMRCA) was fi­nalised by the Air Head Quar­ters in 2008. Against this ASR, Das­sault Avi­a­tion’s Rafale and the Eu­ro­pean mil­i­tary con­sor­tium Air­bus Eurofighter Typhoon were short­listed af­ter eval­u­a­tion that both met the ASR. The Rafale was selected in 2012 be­ing the low­est bid­der (L1). The agree­ment for a li­cense pro­duc­tion was nearly con­cluded for 126 air­craft in 2012 un­der the pre­vi­ous govern­ment. But, the deal got stuck when the Orig­i­nal Equip­ment Man­u­fac­turer (OEM) was re­luc­tant to stand guar­an­tee on the air­craft pro­duced in

In­dia by Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited

(HAL). When the NDA govern­ment came to power in May 2014, the Rafale deal re­mained un­signed.


To over­come the hur­dle and to meet ur­gent re­quire­ments, the IAF pro­jected a min­i­mal need for 36 air­craft to avoid a se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion. This put the NDA govern­ment un­der pres­sure lead­ing them to re-look the con­tract. They found that HAL es­ti­mated nearly three times more man-hours to pro­duce the air­craft as com­pared to the pro­duc­tion time by the OEM. This meant de­lays and higher costs. Be­sides, HAL would roll out only the ba­sic air­craft. Weapons, main­te­nance sup­port and spares sup­port needed to be sep­a­rately con­tracted. The govern­ment de­cided to work out a fresh agree­ment and pur­chase 36 air­craft di­rectly as a pack­age com­pris­ing mis­siles and weapons, ex­ter­nal stores and im­proved radar and Elec­tronic War­fare suite. Train­ing sys­tems, per­for­mance-based lo­gis­tics sup­port, en­hanced pe­riod of main­te­nance sup­port and full tech­ni­cal fa­cil­i­ties at two bases of the IAF where the Rafale squadrons were planned to be lo­cated, were also part of this new deal. The pack­age as­sured the quick­est pos­si­ble way to op­er­a­tionalise a new in­duc­tion.

The cost of 36 op­er­a­tional-ready air­craft in­clud­ing the com­pre­hen­sive pack­age, was ne­go­ti­ated and the deal was signed in 2016. The cost of th­ese would ob­vi­ously be much higher than that of the ba­sic air­craft that was ear­lier con­sid­ered for li­cense pro­duc­tion at HAL. If there are con­cerns re­gard­ing es­ca­la­tion of costs as per the new deal, it is pos­si­ble for the Par­lia­ment to de­bate th­ese in se­crecy; but such de­tails can­not be­come pub­lic, for rea­sons of in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions as well as na­tional se­cu­rity. The op­po­si­tion is not keen to de­bate in se­crecy since the rul­ing party has a ma­jor­ity in the Par­lia­ment that would have made it dif­fi­cult to ar­gue in eq­ui­table terms. Be­sides, the cost de­tails, the stan­dard-of-prepa­ra­tion (SOP) of In­dian Rafale is sen­si­tive and very dif­fer­ent from those sup­plied to oth­ers in­clud­ing the French Air Force.

The Rafale deal of 2016 in­volves a 50 per cent off­set of which 30 per cent is to be spent by Das­sault for mil­i­tary aero­space R&D and 20 per cent for man­u­fac­tur­ing com­po­nents for the Rafale in In­dia. The OEM (Das­sault and their part­ners) could choose any Off­set Part­ner in In­dia from a list of over 100 com­pa­nies, one of which is Reliance De­fence. The De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) is likely to ben­e­fit from the R&D off­set to de­velop the Kaveri en­gine. It is likely that none of the 36 air­craft that are to be de­liv­ered to In­dia be­tween 2019 and 2022, would have parts pro­duced by In­dian off­set part­ners since the time avail­able for de­liv­ery is too short. The In­dian off­set pro­duc­tion would sup­ply spare parts for use in In­dia and for ex­port. Apart from the off­set deal, Anil Am­bani’s Reliance Group and Das­sault Avi­a­tion formed a joint ven­ture (JV) named Das­sault Reliance Avi­a­tion Ltd (DRAL) with the Reliance Group hav­ing a 51 per cent stake in the JV. This JV is in­tended to make aero struc­tures for Das­sault’s Fal­con 2000 civil air­craft and has the po­ten­tial to make parts for the Rafale. Thales of France has also an­nounced its in­ten­tion to set up a JV with Reliance to pro­duce avion­ics com­po­nents for the Rafale.

Pro­cure­ment of 36 air­craft was meant to meet the ur­gent needs of the IAF, but it would not solve the prob­lem of fighter air­craft depletion. As the next step, a global Re­quest for In­for­ma­tion (RFI) was is­sued ear­lier this year for the li­censed man­u­fac­ture of 110 com­bat air­craft in In­dia. This ac­qui­si­tion is be­ing pur­sued.


The Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC) is a ‘watch-dog’, an eye at the na­tional level, on how the govern­ment runs its busi­ness. It has been 30 years since the Chair­per­son of the PAC ex­am­ined the Jaguar deal. Ev­ery in­duc­tion in the IAF had gone through the scru­tiny by na­tional-level mon­i­tors such as the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia (CAG), the Cen­tral Vig­i­lance Com­mis­sion (CVC) and other au­dit au­thor­i­ties. The CAG has the pow­ers to au­dit bud­get, ex­pen­di­ture and per­for­mance of the Min­istry of De­fence (MOD) and the De­fence Ser­vices. The CVC main­tains vig­i­lance against im­pro­pri­ety and has the pow­ers to in­ves­ti­gate in­de­pen­dently. Ma­jor pur­chases go through pre-au­dit to bring out any glar­ing omis­sions or com­mis­sions. Like the Jaguar deal that was con­cluded as an out­dated de­sign, pro­cure­ment of Mi­rage-2000 was se­verely crit­i­cised for hav­ing ac­quired an air­craft with­out weapons, which were pro­cured sub­se­quently at ad­di­tional cost. The SU-30MKI project was crit­i­cised for se­ri­ous de­lays and es­ca­la­tion of cost. .Due cor­rec­tions were made, the dust set­tled down and the in­duc­tions pro­ceeded smoothly.


De­bates have a nec­es­sary role to play in any democ­racy. But it must be done calmly, keep­ing a fo­cus on na­tional se­cu­rity. Se­vere crit­i­cisms that are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated de­mor­alises the bu­reau­cracy and the mil­i­tary and have ad­verse ef­fect on timely de­ci­sions. The over­all ac­count­abil­ity to the Na­tion and its peo­ple of all par­tic­i­pants in such deals, must be en­sured. There has got to be se­ri­ous in­tro­spec­tion on how the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion should de­bate de­fence ac­qui­si­tion in a con­struc­tive man­ner and ar­rive at con­sen­sus with­out block­ing the process or caus­ing de­lays.

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