On Friday April 11, 2015 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would purchase from France 36 Rafale fighters in ready to fly condition to meet the nation's immediate operational requirements. At a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande after their summit talks at Elysee palace, Modi said, “Keeping in mind critical operational necessity of fighter jets in India, I have talked to him (Hollande) and requested for 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible under government-to-government deal.”
The announcement must have warmed hearts of the IAF leadership, ever edgy over the inexorable depletion of force levels caused by obsolescence of older MiG-21 variants. Going by Twitter reactions, the announcement left defense affair followers in good cheer for the upcoming weekend. However, there has been a surprising amount of criticism of the deal in the press. Most of it is coming from journalists who earlier wrongly reported that the Rafale deal is set to be scrapped, or armchair analysts who had opined that the deal was wasteful since India already has Su-30MKI, an equally capable aircraft. (Incidentally, a purchase cannot be wasteful per se. You make it wasteful by not utilizing it. IAF is not known to waste its assets, howsoever limited that may be in their capability.)
Not true! The Su-30MKI is more maneuverable in WVR combat, only at low speeds. The Rafale outmaneuvers the Su-30MKI when energy levels are high. In a typical air-to-air engagement, It takes more than 40-secs of max g maneuvering for speeds to bleed off to an extent where the Su-30MKI begins to gain advantage and most WVR combat engagements end before 40-secs. The Rafale has an edge over the Su-30MKI in other important ways. Sensor fusion makes the aircraft a single pilot platform reducing costs, and gives it an edge in heavily contested airspace. In simpler words, threat assessment and engagement is automated to a greater degree.
The IAF will be introducing another type when it already has too many types, making maintenance more difficult and expensive.
No! the IAF will be replacing two existing types with the Rafale - older variant MiG-21s and MiG-27s. So there will still be a net type reduction. It reflects a more cautious approach to type reduction.
Once we buy 36 aircraft off the shelf, Dassault will not be amenable to price reduction for any follow-up deal involving local manufacture.
The reported on April 10, 2015 that "New Delhi is not averse to Dassault floating a joint venture with a private company to build more Rafales in India. Similar offers of building fighters in India will also be made to other MMRCA competitors like the Saab Grippen, Boeing F-18, EADS Eurofighter, Russian MiG-35 and Lockheed Martin F-16 so that the IAF dominates the evolving security scenario in Asia." The implication is that the IAF would buy any fighter aircraft being manufactured in India! Here I would like to add that the HT has always been on the mark with its rather low key MMRCA reporting. Dassault has tied up with Reliance to fulfill its Rafale offset obligation and the joint venture (JV) may go on to manufacture the aircraft in India coveting a follow-up order. However, the Rafale-Reliance JV would have to compete against any similar JVs set up by MMRCA vendors who grab the opportunity to re-enter the arena -. Boeing, Lockheed, SAAB, EADS and MiG Corp!
MMRCA was pitched as a 126 fighter contract with option for 63 more. Indian government's backtracking would make foreign vendors wary of future Indian RFPs.
Defense procurement plans - short as well as long terms - have to be continuously tuned to prevailing economic realities and operational imperatives. Yes, the MMRCA was projected as a bigger deal (Mother of all defense deals according to the press!) but negotiations have stretched over three years with no resolution in sight. Can the government afford to continue ignoring operational imperatives? "Keeping in mind critical operational necessity of fighter jets in India," said our PM to the world. I am sure world governments will understand what the PM said, even if some journalists don't.
Indigenous manufacture by HAL with ToT was to be a critical ingredient of the MMRCA procurement.
It was, but the reality is HAL is already stretched to a point where timelines and quality are repeatedly slipping. Worst still, HAL has not been able to adequately leverage ToT from past production deals: MiG-21, Jaguar, Su-30MKI. It's often overlooked that ToT comes at a heavy additional cost, over and above the cost of aircraft, weapon systems and spares. Inability to leverage ToT results in criminal waste of national resources.
The deal has made the Modi government's 'Make in India' policy just a slogan!
A 36 aircraft order will not facilitate indigenisation of components, resulting in higher costs and less than optimum utilization of the fleet.
Absence of indigenisation and local manufacture does not reduce the potency of a fighter aircraft. The IAF's most successful fighter - Mirage 2000 - is an example. India ordered 49 Mirage 2000 in fly away condition from Dassault in 1985, and in 2004, placed a follow-up order for 10 Mirage-2000H variant of the aircraft featuring improved avionics. The Mirage gave an excellent account of itself during the 1998 Kargil war despite lack of indigenization, and is expected to continue in service well beyond 2030 following mid-life upgrade!
Rafale - Mirage-2000 Parallels
The Rafale deal may well follow the Mirage-2000 acquisition pattern, unless the French offer to produce the aircraft locally at a cost more competitive than vendors from the US, Germany, Sweden and Russia. It's interesting to note that India and France have historically never entered into a ToT / local production fighter deal. Ouragan (Toofani), Mystere, and Mirage 2000 were all outright purchases. (Jaguar - an Anglo-French joint venture was locally produced by HAL, but the deal was negotiated between HAL and British Aerospace.) It is also interesting to note that the MMRCA acquisition was triggered by the IAF's desire to augment its Mirage-2000 fleet!
Also Read: https://www.myind.net/rafale-and-rationale-another-light-weight-fighter