The Big Picture- Rafale Deal: How Has It Turned Out Finally?
The deal for 36 fighter Rafale jets has been signed and sealed between India and France after the proposal first mooted 16 years ago. The NDA Government declared in April 2015 that the 36 fighter jets instead of the originally planned 126 jets will be acquired from Rafale. The 59,000 crore (approx) rupees deal was signed after hectic bargaining and consultation. The first plane will arrive after 3 years from now.
This is a phenomenal operational capability enhancement of the Indian Air Force. Operationally, this adds hugely in combat preparedness of Indian Air Force especially when its numbers are going down. Its maintenance is state of the art i.e. one of the best in the world. France has an edge with this aircraft on the maintenance side. As far as cost is concerned, half of this cost will come back to India as a plough back. Now this may not be Make in India in a classical sense that everything is done here in terms of design, development, manufacturing, production, testing and induction but it adds hugely to the ecosystem which is purely in the aerospace sector. These offsets are not indirect which means one can plough into computer systems, teaching aids, schools and colleges but this one will bring benefits entirely for the aerospace sector which is desperately needed. This is what adds the value chain not only on the TEJAS indirectly but also on the medium combat aircrafts. The deal has been worth it because this was being planned since 2002.
Projected to cost $12 billion in 2012, that figure has also come down to $7.88 billion. However, India has managed to negotiate and it is reported that the agreed upon price is around $750 million less than what the previous government was willing to pay.
There were a few concerns regarding cost i.e. how does it reflect on defence acquisition process. The defence acquisition process is the part and parcel of long term perspective planning where one looks for future, who are the possible adversaries where India’s strategic interests will expand and go to and based on that certain calculations are made which include the cost and the capability. Both have to be balanced. There are contradictory statements which are coming out. Offset clause has been there in Government of India under the defence procurement manual for last 5-6 years and offsets mandatorily has to come back to India for any deal signed by India.
India’s decision to buy only 36 planes, barely two squadrons is because of cost constraints. They will not fill the gap in the IAF’s numbers and nor will the Rafale’s nuclear capability add much to the Indian offensive toolkit. One can only assume that once the first set of jets is delivered, a further order will be placed to augment the existing numbers, including naval variants.
On a concluding note, if we look at any great power or a country with an aspiration to be a great power, they all have supported and worked towards making their indigenous industry which is why they are able to produce their own aircrafts and sell to the others. India’s defence acquisition, defence planning and indigenization do not have a logic which is consistent to all three issues. Different purchases from different countries would require logistic support from time to time from these countries as well. What is required is a strategy or a coherent plan i.e. where does India stand in terms of defence preparedness after 10-15 years. What is present now is some kind of ad hoc arrangement.