It was surprising news from Paris about the Indian govt finally settling on the purchase of some 60-odd aircraft as a via media between ditching the entire deal and continue struggling with Dassault for a compromise solution for the lot of 126 MMRCA. As of last night, HAL at least was sure that while their differences with Dassault had been sorted out, the glitch at the PNC (price negotiation committee) level was holding up the deal, and because the problem was with escalated cost of both the France-sourced and HAL license-manufactured aircraft, there was a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable, meaning HAL wouldn’t get to produce any Rafales.
This new turn of events, it may be deduced, was apparently something derived by the PMO that Narendra Modi, perhaps, assented to in line with MEA’s view that Paris needed to be mollified with bulk purchase of the Rafale to maintain goodwill with the French govt. Besides, it is a add-on to the initially floated proposal for some 24 Rafales bought off the shelf to stop the squawking about fast-depleting fighter squadrons by the IAF brass.This deduction because Parrikar’s MOD could not have turned around a full 180 degrees after the minister had shown his partiality for the Su-30MKI option, with the HAL Nasik produced aircraft available at around $80-$100 million per fully loaded plane. Now compare that with the $4bn India will be dishing out for 60 Rafales, i.e., at almost $50 million unit cost. Except this figure is just for the platform with no bells and whistles and no onboard armaments, and certainly no AESA radar. Once you begin totting up the costs for each of these items, the final bill for each of these Rafales would be nearer $200mn. For Dassault and France this is surely an unexpected windfall, something they could’t have possibly even imagined coming to pass, because Dassault gets to produce all these aircraft and no nonsense about TOT, etc involved by bringing HAL into the picture. The French combat aircraft industry pivoting on the Rafale, which was down to producing just 11 of these planes annually, will now be able to ramp up production and keep itself in the clover for another 8-10 years thanks to the infernally stupid decision by the GOI.
This is ultimately a regression which pretty much torpedoes the “Make in India” thrust of the BJP govt, which by resuscitating the “meeting the immediate need”-principle for acquisitions takes the country back to ad hoc procurement policies that ended up making India the largest arms importer in the world. The IAF brass may be happy. But consider the deleterious effects of yet another type of weapons platform added to the fleet. At last count IAF had 27 different types of aircraft in its inventory. Now add another one, and compound the logistics problem of handling a completely new aircraft and maintenance setup, requiring the retraining a whole bunch of people (other than pilots) in France, and then total up the costs. For God’s sake, is there no one with any sense of the tens of billions of euros involved? And has the Modi regime given up on responsible expenditure and been herded into buying the IAF line that all will be lost without the Rafale? The truth is much will be lost with Rafale in the IAF because now we’ll have to contend with an upset Moscow, which has been liberal in onpassing its frontline armaments and technology that Western suppliers will not part with for love or money.The manner in which the seller France stuck to its guns in the price negotiation, compelling the buyer New Delhi to backpedal is evidence enough of that.
Let’s hope that this story is only a kite being flown in the media by interested parties. But should it prove to be true then, boy, are we flying blind into a squall!