Response of Air Marshal (retd) Pranab Barbora, Vice Chief of the Air Staff during the MMRCA evaluation (faxed personally to the author 28 July 20.14), reproduced in toto.
Point by point comments/views on the article by Bharat Karnad, ‘Why Rafale Is a Big Mistake’ are enumerated below:
Composition and force structure of the Air Force fighter and bomber categories is best left to the IAF specialists, who have intricate knowledge of country specific requirements based on India’s internal and foreign policies, and not on any individual’s viewpoint. I agree Mr. Bharat Karnad is a very well versed and knowledgeable person in military affairs and economics: however, without adequate information on the subject of the MMRCA deal, to comment on it adversely may not have been very prudent on his part.
A short brief on how MMRCA‘s process came alive in respect of India. As all of us are aware that the IAF has an ageing fleet of M1G 21s, MlG 23s and MIG 27s which would have to be replaced over a period of time supposedly by the famous LCA conceived way back in the mid-eighties, but till date not one operational squadron is available to the IAF. Reasons for this are so many that one could write a book on it.
Way back in the late 1990s and beginning 2000, the IAF projected to the GoI its concerns about the depleting fleet because of the void being created with the LCA project not meeting the assured timelines. The IAF took up the case for procurement of additional Mirage 2000 variant (a fleet that has stood the test of time in respect of operational worthiness) to try and stop the downslide. However, because of the procurement policy etc. etc. this specific choice of Mirage 2000-5 was turned down by the government, and the IAF was asked to go for an open tender for practically the best possible aircraft in that category (cost not being the hindrance as India’s GDP was growing at a fast pace). The IAF followed the government’s instructions and the MMRCA concept was born: and an RPI followed by an RFP was issued.
Six aircrafts were short listed for test evaluation. The undersigned was the Vice-Chief during the period of testing and trials. Unequivocally, this was the first time in the history of military aviation that such an elaborate testing of six frontline fighter aircrafts was undertaken. The testing was very thorough and elaborate and more so, very transparent. I salute the testing team. Every shortcoming was informed to the vendors during the process of evaluation. This was even appreciated by the vendors themselves.
MIG 29 variant, F-16 and F-18 did not qualify based on performance and technical specifications, whilst the Gripen was yet to certify MIL standards on many new aspects incorporated in the aircraft. The undersigned would like to iterate here itself that the Swedes got this new version of Gripen thoroughly tested by India at practically no cost to themselves. I am sure the shortcomings have been rectified post the testing. The remaining contenders that is the Eurofighter and Rafale were the only two to qualify technically and performance based trials. Here, I agree with Mr. Karnad that there are certain aspects that were not incorporated in the test aircraft as per the IAF requirement .However, these aspects were demonstrated to the testing team in the laboratories/other platforms.
As regards cost, are we aware what will be the final cost per piece of the LCAMK 1 or- 2 ? (Mr. Karnad you may get a heart attack). Let us also wait to see the final costing of the F-35. Again, in the opinion of the undersigned, no fourth generation aircraft will cost less than 300 to 400 million dollars all encompassing; at the present time. The final cost per piece of an aircraft is dependent on many factors such as ToT, transfer of source code of platform and weapon systems etc. etc. based on customer requirements.
Aviation related DPSUs in India are a long way from meeting the lAF’s immediate requirements including the basic and intermediate trainer aircraft, forget about the frontline fighter aircraft. However we must encourage the Indian industry, both public and private, to come up with indigenous products to meet India’s defence requirements of the future.
Choice of Rafale vs. the Euro fighter was based on the bids which were opened post the testing and trials, which for the first time included life-cycle cost. Selection of Rafale as the best choice was a joint decision of the IAF, MoD and Gol (CCS), where the lAF’s say was minimal. Nixing the deal at this stage, wherein there is already a delay of two years since the selection of Rafale, would be disastrous for the nation and the IAF as a fresh process of acquisition will take nothing less than a decade plus to fructify in totality.
If India has to take its rightful place in the comity of nations progress in the economic front is not the only criteria. A nation is recognized by both its economic standing and defence capability. Growth in both fields has to be parallel and in tandem.