Rajya Sabha TV Security Scan- Conceptualizing The Rafale Agreement
The Inter Government Agreement recently got concluded between India and France for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. The Indian Air Force as may be recalled has been seeking the induction of 126 fighter aircrafts since 2001-02 to fill the gap of obsolescence and it had identified two aircrafts i.e. the Eurofighter and the Rafale. This was about 5 years ago and the Modi Government has finally taken the decision now. The first aircraft will arrive in India only 3 years later.
The Rafale is the 4.5 Generation aircraft. When it comes it will be in terms of sophistication and operational capability that it will be the best aircraft in the region. The best that Pakistan can put against the Rafale is the F-16 Block 52 which is a generation behind. What the Chinese have is the J-10, Su-30 or J-11 which are way behind the Rafale. Rafale is a multi-role aircraft and right from the beginning of the design process, the French had mandated that one single aircraft should be able to be swing into many roles like air defence, deep strike, maritime role, reconnaissance etc. This will help the Indian Air Force not to go for a variety of platforms which it is known for.
Ease of maintenance like the aero engine can be changed in 30 minutes as against 8 hours taken normally for other aircrafts. Even the ground run is not required after the change of engine as the aircraft is ready for the sortie. The operational availability of the Rafale will be of a very high order.
Reasons behind long duration for decision making and outcomes:
- The aim should be however to get the ecosystem in place for aerospace defence. India has one of the most convoluted and complicated procedures as compared to anywhere in the world for defence This keeps on getting complicated more and more.
For example: As far as Make in India is concerned, the Ministry of Defence is not the Ministry of Industry nor are the armed forces responsible for promoting the Indian industry. It is not their job. Their job is to be fighting fit and prepared for all circumstances. So, when they choose something, they should not be burdened with the thought that which choice should be made to support Indian production. They should focus purely on their operational requirements. These types of considerations adds to the cost, delay and by the time we come to procurement the technology may have changed or may have gone ahead further. So, we are constantly 10 years behind what is the best and the latest.
- There is a lack of coherent national strategy for defence. Aerospace and aeronautics are at the high ends of technological excellence of a country. If a country is able to design, develop and manufacture an aero engine, then that country is like a great power in the international domain. There are other requirements as well in terms of material requirements and all but there is a need of a strategy that works on research and development, industry, development of ecosystem and more importantly developing academic environment for developing skill and manpower.
- An ecosystem to be set up needs a hierarchy. There has to be role clarity and not the role conflict as far as both public and private sectors’ involvement is concerned. Countries like Japan, Brazil etc have done some market segmentation. For example, there is one player for aero engines and they don’t do tendering every time for the same thing. This area is capital intensive, technology intensive and it has cyclical demands.
- The structure of decision making that exists today basically thrives on these three departments under Ministry of Defencee. Department of Defence, Department of DefenceProduction and Department of DRDO and each function in different silos. There needs to be an inter-ministerial as well as intra ministerial coordination.
- These issues can be dealt if there is a National Aeronautics Commission or a National Aerospace Commission and there have been recommendations for this over the past few years. Such a recommendation was made as early as in 1969 and recently also by different committees as an absolute necessity on the lines of ISRO or Department of Atomic Energy directly under the Prime Minister to energize the whole process. These recommendations have been agreed by various governments but Ministry of Defencehas not agreed to it.
- The big players in terms of aerospace engine manufacturing are US, France, Russia, Germany and Britain. Japan is also a major player in this sector. India made a mistake of trying to develop engine and aircraft together in LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) domain and they will never match because engine development needs a dedicated team and effort. A partnership with other countries for India might help. India has a big market size for aerospace as of now. India can opt for making components required by the manufacturers. These can go to the host nations building the equipment. Private players can have a role here.
All the major powers in the world have developed with a strong government support. The deal is quite good but India has to go a long way in designing its own hi-tech platform for military. This is of course the long term objective and the Rafale Agreement can provide the necessary trigger pulse if an appropriate policy framework is evolved. For this many radical decisions need to be taken to alter the existing status quo.