After several twists and turns, the Indian Air Force is reportedly set to get its share of the French Rafale aircraft.
What is Rafale aircraft?
Rafales are twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by >Dassault Aviation, a French firm. Rafale fighter jets are positioned as ‘omnirole’ aircrafts that capable to perform a wide-range of combat roles such as >air supremacy, >interdiction, >aerial reconnaissance, >ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence.
Why has India opted for Rafale?
Rafale was not India’s only choice. Several international aviation manufacturers expressed interest upon knowing the Indian government’s mammoth plan to revamp its Indian Airforce fleet by introducing MMRCAs.
Six renowned aircraft manufacturers competed to bag the contract of 126 fighter jets, which was touted to be the largest-ever defence procurement deal of India.
The Initial bidders were Lockheed Martin’s F-16s, Boeing’s F/A-18s, Eurofighter Typhoon, Russia’s MiG-35, Sweden’s Saab’s Gripen and Rafale.
All aircraft were tested by the IAF and after careful analysis on the bids, two of them — Eurofighter and Rafale — were shortlisted. Dassault bagged the contract to provide 126 fighter jets, as it was the lowest bidder and the aircraft were said to be easy to maintain.
When did the actual procurement process begin?
Indian Air Force sought additional fighter jets in 2001. The current IAF fleet largely consists of heavy and light-weight combat aircraft. So the Defence Ministry considered bringing in intermediate medium-weight fighter jets. Though the idea has been around since 2001, the actual process began in 2007. The Defence Acquisition Council, headed by then Defence Minister A.K. Antony, approved the >Request For Proposal to buy 126 aircraft in August 2007. This kick-started the bidding process.
How many Rafales are we buying and what’s the cost involved?
The deal was initially estimated to be worth $10.2 billion (Rs.54,000 crore). The plan included acquiring 126 aircraft, 18 of them in fly-away condition and the rest to be made in India at the Hindustan Aeronautics facility under transfer of technology.
So Rafale won the contract. And India is buying 126 jets. That’s it?
No, it’s trickier than that. After Rafale won the contract, the Indian side and Dassault started negotiations in 2012. While it is usual for such negotiations to stretch to several months, the Rafale negotiations has been on for almost four years now. The agreement was signed only in January this year.
Why this delay?
Both India and France witnessed national elections and a change in government while the negotiations were under way. Pricing was another factor. Even during the signing of the purchase agreement, both the sides >couldn’t reach a conclusion on the financial aspects. According to sources, the price of an aircraft it about Rs.740 crores and India wants them for at least 20 per cent lesser cost.
Though the initial plan was to buy 126 jets, >India scaled it down to 36, that too in ready condition.
How important is this deal to both India and France?
France: Rafale jets are currently being used mostly by France and also by Egypt and Qatar. Dassault is hoping that export of Rafale jets will help the company meet its revenue targets. India was the first country that agreed to buy Rafale, after it was used in Libyan airstrikes. If India inducts these jets in its military fold, other nations could express its willingness to buy Rafales.
India: India chose Dassault over its traditional partner Russia’s MiG. It also ignored U.S.’ Lockheed, at a time when India and U.S. were aiming for closer ties. Procurement of combat aircraft is long overdue for the Indian Air Force. Further delay can only make things worse. This deal is India’s biggest-ever procurement. In the effectiveness of the Rafale deal lies the future of other defence procurements.