Rafale sliding, BAE edging in with Typhoon?

Rafale had the shortest run imaginable. With the Modi govt sobering up after the Paris high when the PM merely broached — did not commit — to a G2G deal to buy the Dassault product outright, GOI is backing off which, if true, is a welcome return to good sense. These are, in any case, the soundings one is getting in Delhi circles.

However, this is seen as an opportunity by the British govt and BAE — albeit a slim one — to edge in with the European consortium (EADS) fighter — Typhoon. Whether or not the German chancellor Angela Merkl initiated the gambit this time around, the fact is London is using the visit by the Deputy Chief of the UK Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach to push the proposal. A senior BAE representative in in Peach’s team and, as he told me at a dinner last night, has been given “15 minutes” with Parrikar later today.

The British spiel I heard yesterday was that Typhoon had 20% longer range, blah, blah (Peach), in what combat profile he didn’t say; and that BAE, according to its rep, would readily partner HAL, Reliance, or anybody else GOI wished it to join, in setting up a full production unit in India generating 20,000 jobs and producing 50% of the aircraft in the country, and some 13 Typhoons for immediate detachment from RAF for Indian duty to be replaced with new Eurofighters as they begin coming in off the Indian line. So, I asked the BAE chap whether the 50% Indian component in the Typhoon would be by weight or value. And he shut up. In essence this deal is marginally better in that the bulk of the aircraft production will be in India but with minimal TOT (of the kind mentioned above). With the RFP system scrapped, this too apparently would be on a G2G basis.

The BAE rep in turn asked me what would get Parrikar’s attention in his quarter hour with the defence minister. And I told him straight out that if BAE was really serious and if it had to have smidgeon of a chance, it’d have to part with the source codes and control laws so India can actually learn how to build advanced aircraft from the ground up to add to the invaluable experience garnered by Indian aircraft designers at ADA on the Tejas, and not put on the table yet another Meccano-license manufacture deal. If BAE, overnight rethinks its attitude on opening up to genuine TOT, who knows, it may just get a hearing from a BJP govt which is plainly confused and doesn’t know which way to go. Otherwise it’ll be another polite thankyou-goodbye episode, which is what I expect to happen.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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29 Responses to Rafale sliding, BAE edging in with Typhoon?

  1. Tama Shah says:

    “So, I asked the BAE chap whether the 50% Indian component in the Typhoon would be by weight or value. And he shut up.” … brilliant!

    On a slightly different note, I was wondering whether you will be able to shed some light on the kind of political pressure the Dassault Group is capable of exerting. I could not but notice that Modi’s interview appeared on Le Figaro, a newspaper owned by the Dassault Group. But any information on the relation between this group and the French govt. has been difficult to obtain, to say the least.

  2. Not sure if there are public documents to show the Dassault-govt of France link, but the French Defence Ministry funds/subsidizes R&D in the aerospace sector and gets a rebate for finished products inducted into the French military services.

  3. mnas dhar says:

    This whole business is getting out of hand. First the tender process for license manufacture, TOT etc. Then sidelining that and G2G with France for direct purchase and now an attempt to even sideline the sidelined option and do a G2G for the eurofighter which by the way was L2 in the arduous MMRCA tender process and would make a mockery of the legitimacy of the tendering process, that is if any is left. I can only imagine what the IAF must be feeling about all this. And on top of all this there are some reports about a design fault with the LCA which has still not got the final operational clearance. Someone needs to be shot in the back of the head for all this.

  4. Armand says:

    Modi stood side by side with the French president and announced the deal. There is no backing out of it… it would be political suicide that would degrade India’s geopolitical credibility.

    • What if the two sides even in G2G mode can’t resolve differences costs, TOT, or Indian manufacture?

      • asdsda asdfsad says:

        One does not make an announcement at that level if there are fundamental differences.

    • Tama Shah says:

      I beg to differ. Countries often back out of such deals, and then return to the table to remake the same deal, or make new deals. India, for example, is dealing with France only a few months after France refused to sell a warship to Russia, AFTER getting paid for it. Only now they are saying that maybe, just maybe, they will return the money to Russia. This Janus-faced nature of government action is ubiquitous.

      If credibility were a factor in geopolitical maneouvers, then, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why India (or any other state for that matter) would think of dealing with the French defense industry.

  5. Rahul says:

    Deleting ‘not liked’ comments is autocracy, replying to them is democracy. Autocratuic behaviour always proves that maybe the comment was truthful….

  6. @Rahul — Have happily published responses critical of my line of thinking. Scour this blog and you’ll see. But “democratic” debate and discussion doesn’t mean license to be abusive — which is what your rant was. I had made the mistake early in the career of this blog to in fact be un-“autocratic” and just publish even the downright abusive stuff before realizing it only encouraged invective not reason, reduced the exchange to the level of a mobocracy, and kept away readers interested in genuine exchange and in hearing views different from those generally propagated in most of the rest of the print and electronic media, and so began trashing such stuff. This is the principle that stays.

    By all means, put forward your views, as strongly as you wish, just take care to maintain decorum. Should you have something new or novel to say, it’ll be featured here. But thanks all the same for taking the time to read my writings and this blog.

  7. Atul says:

    BAE Typhoon is a four nation disaster and it will never have a fighting or any chance. Rafale has certain key advantages: One, it is a delta wing reduced RCS fighter which is a generation ahead of Su-30MKIs. It’s electronic warfare suite named SPECTRA and general features are quite good. In addition, most of its sub-components are already in use in other fighter aircraft in Indian Air Force. For example, Sagem, Thales, MBDA products are used in Mirage 2000, Sukhoi-30MKI, Jaguar and even LCA Tejas. So no doubt, among all other MMRCA contenders, Rafale was the most suitable one. By going G-2-G route, the selection is being reinforced, nothing else.

    Indian problems are twofold: price of the fighter and local production. The reduced price will help us induct it at a reasonable cost and the local production will help India further in the development of LCA Tejas MK-2 which is also a delta winged fighter. I hope PM Modi and M Parrikar can navigate around these two issues smartly. They can be trusted in a better way than the previous government, at least.

    • Your observation on Typhoon is correct and mirrors what I have said in my previous writings (related to MMRCA deal). The Rafale-MMRCA issue boils down not so much to this or that performance/operational parameter as the cost factor. In the simplest, albeit crude, terms it is whether Rafale costing twice as much as Su-30MKI is also twice as capable, which it is not. India will always be short of money and costly defence purchases have to be weighed strictly in terms of affordability, more economical alternatives, inter se military priorities, and opportunity costs. These considerations also, it’d seem, informed defmin Parrikar’s origianl preference.

      • Picard578 says:

        But does Rafale really cost twice as much as Su-30MKI? European fighters tend to have higher upfront costs (unit procurement, weapons) but lower operational costs. It would be interesting to se lifecycle costs of both.

      • @picard — Actually, Rafale costs three times as much, according to the Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar!

      • picard578 says:

        Point was, are these costs just acquisition price, or llifecycle costs? Cheaper is not necessarily cheaper, if you get my meaning.

      • It may even out for the simple reason that while very expensive maintenance and service infrastructure will have to be set up for the Rafale, it is a sunk cost as far as the Su-30 is concerned because IAF has been flying Russian aircraft for nearly 60 years now.

      • picard578 says:

        True, India already has Su-30 in service, so any infrastructure necessary will simply be an expansion on already familiar infrastructure, unlike with Rafale.

  8. Parth says:

    Bharat, you are dead wrong about Rafale and Su 30 comparison. It’s not about medium, heavy and light. It’s about the requirement of strike fighter. We need something that can fly low (terrain hugging modes), deep into heavily defended enemy territory while carrying a considerable payload. With sophisticated radars, EW systems and situational awareness that allows it to hit targets with accuracy, in a rich air defence environment, and come back safely. While Su 30 fly at close to 15 km high providing escort with their BVR missiles. Basically, a replacement for Jaguars/mig 27. Off course since these are multi role aircraft, IAF expects them to be as good as su 30 in everything else too, so they are not limited in any other role either. Rafale and F15SG are the best available platforms for this, possible F35 too.

    Secondary reason for mmrca is to build something new generation and western, in India. Sukhoi uses outdated Russian technology in every way and does not contribute anything other than screwdriver technology to Indian industry. Rafale structures use advanced composites, it’s electronics are of the new generation and uses the latest production techniques. this is why India wanted to build something like this so as to leapfrog the manufacturing capability and join the large international supply chain for western components. F/a 18 would have been the best choice here, possibly Eurofighter too.

    As for ToT, it shouldn’t even matter if the thing is built here. What should matter is we have the design data and license to add and subtract systems of our own and to upgrade the aircraft ourselves in the future. Other than that, the only thing that can help with domestic programs is joint r&d for that particular project, nothing else. We should also have complete MRO facilities completely in Indian hands.

    • @Parth — Have always been most skeptical about any combat aircraft claiming to do multiple roles for the obvious reason that the plane architecture differs for the different roles, and the platform therefore ends up as a compromise that cannot pull any particular combat profile very well. This is the basic problem with the MMRCA concept and Rafale.

      As to your secondary reasons, Western suppliers have been the most reticent in genuinely parting with technology — the “know why”, and not just “know how” which last falls in the meccano-screwdriver-license production deals HAL has so far been part of, and this after pocketing the money!!Soviet Union/Russia has been far more forthcoming with sharing tech — SSBN, including miniaturised N-power plant, ceramic blade tech for the Su-30, etc, for e.g., that no Western power would transfer for love or money. And that’s the real difference. True, in the bells and whistles to hang on a basic platform and on the ergonomics of the platform itself, Western planes may be better. The real question to ask is what’s affordable and what premium should India pay for these bells and whistles, as I put it.

  9. Shail says:

    @Parth — Have always been most skeptical about any combat aircraft claiming to do multiple roles for the obvious reason that the plane architecture differs for the different roles, and the platform therefore ends up as a compromise that cannot pull any particular combat profile very well. This is the basic problem with the MMRCA concept and Rafale…

    Why Sir? Plane Architecture? (you dont seem to be aviation savvy) its to do with Aerodynamics, and systems and yes its a hell of a cheaper option to have one one multi-role aircraft rather than one specialised machine for each role. Look no further than the M-2000, which is equally good at most roles as the specialists ( GA – Better than the Mig-27 and Jaguar, AD -better than the Mig-29, ) and the relative “impotence” of the Mig-29 fleet ( only Limited Point AD) which also incidentally was a logistic nightmare, and had a life cycle cost which was WAYYYYYYY higher and very lousy flight line availability.
    Then of course there is the Swing Role concept – which gives even more “Punch” ..of all the contenders the Eurofighter is lousy at GA..see all the latest conflicts. They were celebrating dropping a bomb!!! So unfortunately Rafale it is. and By the way going by some of your previous posts… would you share a technology , which kept the Moolah coming in? Are we sharing LCA, Sonars, Missiles whatever ..with any nation? will we give them ToT for say Prithvi or any other hypothetical weapon that we might sell..like Brahmos?
    To Rant is one thing, to build straw men and rabble rouse is quite another.
    If we cannot ensure that our best join the DRDO ( you may want to research the quality of ppl who join, especially with the quota system, and of course check how many patents per person or even the Org as a whole, its less than what Boeing does in a YEAR)
    We always pay for our lack of knowledge and expertise..recall your compulsion to call a Plumber, Electrician, Auto Mechanic, Doctor, ….surely you must be better than your plumber, electrician and auto mechanic in intelligence, opportunity etc
    Also ..we are a country that cannot even design a small arms which works reliably. Our Cars are Japanese, and European imports ( Tata doesnt sell all that much and anyway their designs are not fully indigenous either, but thats another argument)

    So either we make it ourselves, which we cant or wont (Please, please dont start on the LCA etc..its just a joke not an aircraft..it has an effective ROA of only 150 lousy km without drop tanks or Inflight refuelling..(30 – 40 minutes) and this too took bloody 30+ years, after all this it has an American engne, israeli radar, russian weapons, some indian systems…and doesnt meet weight, agility, manoevrability targets and Load Carriage..etc etc, apart from the fact that its the most maintenance un-friendly aircraft ever made. Mark my words the Mk2 will take at least 10 yrs more to reach sqn service by which time even Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives would be probably flying better ac than us.)
    So..end state Sir??? Bite the Bullet, Make nice nice smoochie smoochie with some better ac manufacturer ( if you are so anti Rafale, dont buy Rafale, buy some other aircraft) and BUY

    • Multi-mission combat aircraft have inherent design compromises. For example, low level strike aircraft have to optimise small wings for a straight arrow progress at high speeds, but for air-to-air combat maneuverability is at a premium which is provided by larger wings enabling better turn rate, etc. Have over the years been most influenced in my thinking most by the views of Pierre Sprey, co-designer of the F-16 (air-to-air) and A-10 (GA/close support). I agree entirely with you that tech is dear and not to be parted with for love or money and the imperative is therefore to generate these ourselves — the point I too have been stressing. But in the present with defence rupees drying up, the prime metric then becomes affordability and improving the spares supply and quality problems plaguing the Su-30MKI, which I hope to bring up in a future column.

  10. Shail says:

    Incidentally sir, leasing a SSBN is not the same as Russians sharing tech, just cause i let you borrow my ferrari, doesnt mean i teach you to build one. Secondly all HAL does with the Su-30 is not perhaps what your understanding is. We may be much further behind. Ceramic blade tech???? The Kaveri failed because they couldnt even build a Single Crystal Blade..The test engines could never stabilise without blowing up..its a national shame. Pl forget ceramic..its a dream. and yes the russians arent saints recall the ball squeezing over the Gorshkov, 800 million initial-2.3 billion final for a fire damaged 20 yr old failed design.
    Maybe time the russkies got nervous that we are looking elsewhere?

    • The SSBN is India-made, it is the Akula SSN which’s leased. Without Russian help, the compact 80MW nuclear power plant in the Arihant SSBN and follow-on ships, the Indian SSBN wouldn’t have hit the waters.

  11. Sorry, genuine inadvertent mistake — meant to write crystal blade. The troubles HAL has had in every thing it has done, and continues to do, badly, it is true, IS a national shame. Have been a trenchant critic of HAL and all DPSUs.

  12. Shail says:

    Also, kindly note the latest chinese success with the J-11 D …Indigenous AESA, AND engines , amongst other things..Maybe the Russkies are taking sides …

    • Yes, the Chinese despite their fantastic reverse engg muscle, have been unable to replicate even Russ quality engines and avionics. And Moscow is now incentivised to assist China in AESA, etc, besides the money, by signalling to Delhi that separation will cost India lots of different ways.

  13. Shail says:

    Incidentally Multi Role is the Order of the Day …F-22also being modified, F-35, Su, series, PAKFA and derivatives, Eurofighter etc..once again re-iterating, single role is dead. Its too costly even the yanks russians and europeans cant afford it. They have stopped developing em anymore. ALL modern fighters are multi-role
    The ” aerodynamic compromise” went out with digital FBW, weapons themselves have evolved both A-A and A-G. The Bison upgrade proved that even a 50 yr old design could be so modified and used for effective precision targeting as well as A-A area defence/ note the evolution of the j-10, and j-11 proceeding on the same lines

  14. Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean these aircraft are not design compromises. True, if everything can be fired from standoff range with certainty that the ordnance released will home in accurately for the kill. then all we’d need is a platform to get up in the air with the weaponsload.

  15. Shail says:

    which is precisely why DRDO should focus on developing those weapons, instead of mucking around in territories like mosquito repellant creams and MREs, and failed attempts at engines

  16. sriramdatla says:

    Sir China and Russia have signed a deal for 25 aircraft for 2 billion, both are contemplating to jointly produce engines. Is the S u 25 better than the rafale? Do you think the rafale deal is on? I like the way RM has pushed the IAF to buy improved version of Tejas mark1. Finally make in India is gonna happen.

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