Meeting IAF’s demand for French combat aircraft cheaply

It is clear that behind IAF’s concerted and sustained moves over the years to delay the Tejas LCA induction, is an institutional aversion to indigenously designed and developed combat aircraft. This has a long history starting with the cold-blooded killing in the early 1970s of the Marut Mk-II, and the loss of a generation of gifted aircraft designers led by Dr Raj Mahindra who cut their teeth under the great Fockewulf design bureau chief, Dr. Kurt Tank. It is reflected in the pitch that gets shriller every time some service brass opens his mouth, demanding foreign warplanes, in the present context, the Rafale. Considering the quite exorbitant payout involved in obtaining this aircraft — which is plainly giving the Defmin Parrikar the conniptions, because he is saddled with the unenviable task of reconciling PM Modi’s manifestly spur-of-the-moment statement in Paris of offtaking 36 Rafales with the paucity of resources confronting his ministry.

An easy way out for Parriker to escape the tight corner he is in and junk the Rafale but also meet IAF’s craving for foreign combat aircraft, especially French, fighter planes, is to acquire from a financially beleagured Greece its nearly three squadrons of Mirage 2000 aircraft IAF so dearly loves. The Hellenic AF operates 45 Mirage 2000s — 20 EGM/BGM variant and 25 “5 Mk-II” version.The difference between the Greek EGM/BGM and the 5-Mk II Mirage 2000 is only an external IFR. Greece is unlikely to be disarmed — it also has some 150-odd F-16 C/Ds. So Athens would happily part with its Mirages, what with the Greek govt of Tsipras being hounded by German creditors to repay the outstanding national debt totaling nearly 200% of its GDP! The Indian fleet of Mirage 2000, it may be recalled, is being upgraded @ $52 million/plane to the Mirage 2000-5 standard.

Further, Qatar is in the market to dispose of its 9 Mirage 2000s which too India can buy.

Together that’s 45 Mirage 2000s from Greece and 9 of the same from Qatar for a complement of 54 planes, doubling IAF’s Mirage 2000 fleet. India, moreover, will not have to invest in the servicing infrastructure which already exists, nor will monies have to be splurged either on training pilots or servicing technicians. It only needs an imaginative gambit by the Modi govt to approach Athens with a deal it cannot refuse, say, $100 million per Mirage 2000 in the Hellenic AF with all the stores, spares, and weapons holdings for this aircraft. That will cost the Indian exchequer $4.5 billion for the Greek Mirages and another billion $ for the Qatari aircraft, the deal totaling less than $6 billion for 54 Mirage 2000-5s versus $8-$9 billion for only 36 Rafales, which last monies do not factor the downstream costs of sustaining the Rafale in IAF, which will be many multiples of this price tag. Besides, what’s the performance falloff between the Mirage 2000-5 and the Rafale? Minimal. So, OK, the latter has AESA. But, it is not beyond Indian ingenuity to outfit the Mirages so acquired along with the IAF’s Mirage fleet, with the DRDO-built AESA that’s going to be tested later this year — a product developed jointly with Israel based on the Elta 2032 computer. The sensible economics involved should persuade Modi to backtrack on his Paris statement which, if deconstructed, was not a commitment to buy at all.

How’s this a bad deal??? Get going Mr Parrikar.

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.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Military Acquisitions, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Weapons, West Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Meeting IAF’s demand for French combat aircraft cheaply

  1. archit says:

    And with the monies so saved..go and buy the Yassen just put in a few billion dollars change…?
    Why suggest buying used stuff? whats wrong in diverting monies towards making AMCA and UCAVs and Cruise missiles and more Bramhos?

    • Considering you have criticized this blog and others on LCA and mention UCAVs in the same breath, you may like to know that in 1986 when I resided in Washington, DC, wrote a 2-part extended article for Khushwant Singh’s Illustrated Weekly (for those too young, then from the TOI stable). It said several things about aircraft development in the context of India starting from a zero-baseline after the killing off of the Marut HF-24 buy IAF and the fast advancing technology, in the main, that (1) the LCA programme that had been recently initiated, would fetch a combat aircraft that would be obsolete by the time it was ready, & (2) IAF, DRDO and HAL should look at designing and developing remotely piloted vehicles instead and skip a generation of technology and into aerial warfare stage where manned aircraft have become extinct. This was, perhaps, the first such article anywhere.

  2. Shaurya says:

    @Archit: You are not on the same page and keep on bringing irrelevant examples to the picture. The post is to explore ways to maintain a depleting fighter fleet with limited monies on the table. AMCA and UCAV are way far out, the first thing to invest in is streamlining the production of Tejas I, get it upgrade with Tejas 1A, then get Mk II rolling. AMCA and UCAV are both way far out for any active planned induction to address a fast depleting fleet in the next few years.

    This so call used stuff will be enough to counter Pakistan and China for a decade+. Monies saved can certainly be invested in the AMCA, UCAV too.

  3. Shail says:

    @ Shaurya :
    a) Tejas is a Light Aircraft not comparable to AMCA.
    b) The Depleting fighter fleet is a result of non purchase of new aircraft at the right times. These non-buying decisions are strengthened by blogs like this and posters like you which consistently bad mouth the IAF, and appear to think of Tejas as a Panacea to all problems not realising that that aircraft is now strategically obsolete even before induction since India now sees China as its main adversary.
    c) Buying second hand aircraft is a very bad idea for various reasons. Only second rate powers do this.
    d) The world is moving beyond manned aircraft for various reasons. We need to move with the times and not get stuck to a bad project and pur more good money after bad.
    e) It strikes me as ridiculous, when on the one hand the blogger cries for indigenisation and on the other , he brazenly supports importing a nuclear submarine and second-hand aircraft and cites IAF’s poor indigenisation record ( on that assertion of his, i have my serious doubts) as a cause (sic) – it appears to be a motivated post since earlier he had asked for more russian aircraft like Su30. It is well known that Russia is no longer our great friend, no matter what their past record was.

    • Shaurya says:

      A. Never compared the Tejas to AMCA
      B. The IAF wanted to purchase the M2000, back in 2000, Do not remember Mr. Karnad opposing that decision but he has opposed the MMRCA!!! What a bloody waste of time, it has been
      C. I am not worried about “status” issues. I am worried about defense against our likely opponents. This is where additional M2000 can fill a gap for the next 15-20 years.
      D. You maybe sure of lock, stock and barrel dependence on UCAV but there is NO force that has done so and not likely to do so for the next 20 years. More so, it is not that we are terribly short of pilots or the ability to produce more of them. UCAV is a complex endeavor.
      E. Your prerogative to believe what you want, however, if Mr. Karnad is one day derided as opposing IAF, then another day opposing DRDO, then another day opposing the US/West, then another to root for indigenous and opposing Russia in the mix, then opposing Modi one day and the other day the Congress – to me he is doing something right! He speaks for Indian interests as he sees them and does not speak on anyone’s behalf, IMO.

  4. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Since the IAF is bothered about falling numbers a lot. I does not seem like a wrong idea to help them with numbers till the LCA Mk-P1 and LCA Mk-2 can come up with a line each devoted to them. Mirage 2000 after all is MMRCA sized like the F-16IN and Gripen NG. And IAF has been quite voluble about the excellent service record of Mirage 2000.

    If the Greek Mirages and the IAF’s Mirage 2000 Standard 5 differ merely in terms of an IFR probe then there is no reason why ADA cannot help by installing one on these aircrafts. For a full weapons+service+aircarft+SLP enabled MMRCA the air chiefs have said that no MMRCA will come in at anything less than 400 million USD. Comparatively at 100 million USD these Greek Mirages would be a steal.

    The upgrade to the Su30MKIs alongwith the 36 Rafale will give the IAF the quality edge and the numbers can be filled up with these Greek Mirages. In any case its not like Mirages are not an acceptable aircraft. Not bad an idea, I would say. We may not even have to buy all the Greek fleet, perhaps.

  5. Rahul says:

    If someone gives Mr Karnad the slightest hint that a Russian built ‘foreign’ aircraft like Su 30 MKI/Mig 35 will be a better option than “foreign” Rafales/Typhoons to meet the “indegenization” demands, he will jump at it and will say in excitement: “Yes, Yes, let’s do it”….

    We need to be sticking at one point instead of two points: What exactly is the issue against Rafale? That IAF is not “indigeneous” minded or Rafale is costly….Once we get the answer to that problem, we will comeup with a solution….Not knowing the problem leads us to pure guesswork and nothing else…

    I can give another solution…Import all the Mirages from the French and not Greece…

    • Every blog cannot be treated de novo. Were you to peruse my innumerable blogs on this subject (in the IAF section) you will see my writings have been motivated by two main factors — indigenous armaments at all cost and cost-effective defence. Were French aircraft, in fact, to be cheaply available — cheaper than Russian ones and of comparable quality — I’d jump on this as second-best option (indigenous being best) in a jiffy. I consider myself an equal opportunity critic; it is just that Russia charges far less extortionate prices for its hardware and is far more reliable than Western suppliers, who’d turn off the spares spigot anytime instructed by Washington. Recall the grounding of the Sea King fleet of IN because some of its components were of US origin? How would you like frontline IAF squadrons grounded for similar reasons in a crisis, which is precisely when Western states act up? As long as our interests are convergent with the West, everything is hunky-dory. If the overlap ends, our troubles begin. As has happened in the past. And there are great many areas where our interests will diverge in the future.

      • Shaurya says:

        There is even more reason to ensure Russia continues to be our numero uno strategic foreign supplier. With China’s rise, Pakistan has another sugar daddy to procure arms from. When the bullets start flying Russia is the only one that can be counted on with the political and military heft to go against China’s or US wishes and even that is not a guarantee but is something we have to work on. Alignment of interests is a two way street. India cannot be a free rider forever.

        It is becoming a complex game, with China and Russia getting closer, we needing the west to offset China, China and US alignment of economic interests, China’s expansion of internal consumption, the long term decline of EU, the US pivot to Asia, on and on….

        There is only ONE sure shot clarity on what India needs to do. The Indian economy needs so grow at 8-10% for the next 20 years, without any break….or what is called a break out, which escapes global GDP trends and dependency on foreign inflows. That is what China did in the last 20 years. Interesting times.

        Folks, who read this blog and do not get the context of things and its “relative” priority in the scheme of things will keep missing the point!!

      • Rahul says:

        Mr Karnad, the problem lies elsewhere. True, the Russians have been our time tested friend and have always given us access to the best of technologies but one will have to admit that the Russians have behaved as an partner in obsessive love with us. All this talk of importing Mirages from Greece/Qatar would not have arisen ‘if’ the follow up deal to build 80+ more Mirages by HAL would have been executed around mid-80’s after we bought 45 in fly away condition. The moment we settled for the Mirages, our IAF pilots were ‘secretly’ flown to some ‘secret’ Soviet bases to test fly the Mig 29’s which was the Soviets answer to F-16’s, which our pilots found to be quite capable and then the Russians gave it to us at a damn cheap rate of 16 million USD/plane…We could not resist such a lower price. In the end, we ended up having 2 different F-16 killers, thereby diversifying our inventory and increasing maintenance costs. Why did the Russians behaved in that manner? Because they were/are jealous enough to see India flying a Western plane/arms. History is repeating itself for the Rafale deal….The Russians are suffering from the worst heartbreak compared to other loosing vendors post selection of Rafale….Whether or not the Chinese Flankers will be able to gulp up the Rafales like a mosquito on an August night is a question of the future when, and if, these 2 planes ever come face to face, but these kind of reactions shows the jealousness and dissapointment the Russians suffer out of their obsessive love for India….They simply cannot see India buying anything other than Russian…

        History tells us that though Russian arms are cheaper to buy at flyaway prices, their maintenance costs are much higher compared to Western ones, eventually resulting in lower servicebality rate for Russia arms….

  6. archit says:

    I think if could build our our SSBN, we dont need the Russians as much as we did say in the 80s / 90s. I too believe in indigenisation, but not in pouring money down the drain like Tejas and getting a 90s short-legged aeroplane in the 21st century, when the big bad wolf in the neighbourhood is already on stealth aircraft, S-300 missiles and the like.

    Tejas is at best a defensive aircraft which reflects a defensive mindset. We need a robust offensive platform that can go head to head with the best. I think thats the AMCA.

    For the short and mid term more Sukhoi’s will be the easiest decision since they are already being built in India. Not sure of the quality and flight line availability though( heard its very poor – cause of several crashes and accidents). I believe that still new Sukhoi’s would be way better than second hand stuff or used goods. Way more capable than Mirages. also our pilots and technicians already trained and all infrastructure already in place. Will also sort out the logistics nightmare and send right signals to Russia if that’s so important ( i think they actually need a kick, the way they treated us over the Gorshkov+ MiG29K fiasco, delaying FGFA and asking more money all the time)
    UCAVs would be a good primer for ADA/DRDO since they seem incapable of any good manned aircraft. Will do the job and not kill pilots – as well as learn making high tech platforms. Can start with predator like designs and progress from there. I believe the Aura is in advanced stage. would also work out cheaper than manned aircraft in the short as well as long run.
    Also a business rule if your customer doesn’t trust you after 60 years , you can be damn sure that you are doing some critical thing wrong – Why not a wake up call to HAL/DRDO ??

    Anything built today will have to last till 2050 or beyond. I just cannot see the Tejas being relevant in 2050-60 (neither the IAF or IN version). Better to focus on Nirbhay, Bramhos, and other missiles to counter the famous second Arty. No prisoners of war to worry about as well.
    In the long run, the R&D is the key. we need to attract back the talent in the Diaspora and maybe buy (figuratively) scientists rather than technology. Technology ages ( who cares about a Iphone 3G today?) A scientist invents new tech. I say get them whatever it takes( wine women wealth etc). Pay them double, give perks whatever.
    Invest in future tech to stay relevant, don’t look to the past like Tejas, Treat it as a initial experiment, learn from mistakes and move on.
    I dont trust Russia

    • manutdfan says:

      Agreed Tejas may never turn out to be a world beater. But it’s not intended to be a world beater in the first place. The idea behind Tejas is to field acceptable quality in great quantity to match the enemy plane for plane in case we have to fight a simultaneous two front war.

      I’m not sure if you are aware but technically India is still a 3rd world country and we have something called a budget in Feb every year. India’s defence budget is around $40 billion which is less than 2.5% of our total budget outlay. Now you might be wondering as to why the ratio is so low. That is because we exercise something called financial prudence so that our country’s $2 trillion economy keeps on growing at a healthy rate unlike Pakistan that spends close to 23% of its national budget and has now turned into an insignificant entity and continually hemorrhaging economy. Also you should note that of India’s total defence outlay of $40 billion half is directly given to the Army every year. I can only say that it’s nothing sort of a miracle that our Air Force and Navy still maintain impeccable high combat standards inspite of such huge budget constraints.

      It is due to such operating constraints that the IAF needs to maintain a high-lo mixture i.e. an adequate mix of a more capable “high” quality fighter and a less capable “low” quality fighter. Ideally the ‘high’ component consisting of heavy and medium weight class fighters should not be more than 30-40% of the total fleet. And I think this adequately explains the point as to why we should not produce any more Su-30MKI no matter how advanced they are.

      Wars are won by those who can field acceptable quality in drastically superior quantities and as of date China is superior to India in every sense- man, material, resources and technology. So your suggestion of cranking as many Su-30 as possible is simply unaffordable and will drive us to the brink of bankruptcy.

      Also how could you possibly compare Su-30MKI to Mirage 2000?
      For starters both are fighters of different weight classes intended for different roles.
      The MKI is a frontline heavyweight fighter meant for invading hostile airspace beating the enemy on its own ground and maintaining air supremacy deep into enemy territory.
      The Mirage 2000 like the MiG-29 is a homeland point defense fighter with comparatively better secondary strike capabilities.
      Also the maintenance and operational cost of Mirage 2000 is 1/3rd of that of the Su-30MKI maybe even less. Using Sukhois for missions that can be done by the Mirage is simply wasteful overkill.
      Lastly the ‘M’ in the IAF MMRCA tender stood for medium-multirole. In which realm did it ever imply ‘heavy-multirole’?

      This notion of producing more Su-30MKI is just wishful thinking that would ultimately drive us to financial ruin. @Karnad is perfectly justified in recommending the upgraded second- hand Mirage 2000 as a stop gap measure for the intended requirement of the IAF till the HAL AMCA and PAK FA become fully operational on the basis of the above arguments.

      Also you mention that- ‘Tejas is at best a defensive aircraft which reflects a defensive mindset. We need a robust offensive platform that can go head to head with the best. I think thats the AMCA.’

      Agreed. Tejas is definitely not your frontline fighter. It’s a lightweight fighter meant as a replacement for the MiG-21 in the short-range area defense role. It’s direct equivalent the PAF’s J-7 and JF-17. And dare I say that once the platform and its related technology matures it will be a damn good aircraft. It’s just a matter of time. It’s very light hence agility and maneuverability would not be an issue. But it’s underpowered as of now which I believe can be sorted out by simply inducting the aircraft into squadron service ASAP and then sorting out it’s issues with time.

      New aircrafts being underpowered is not a new issue. I’ll give you a very good pop media example. I guess you love the movie TopGun right. Well the star of that movie the F-14 Tomcat also went through developmental hell. The early 70’s era A and B models were grossly underpowered and it faced huge opposition from political and military quarters. Inspite of that the US Navy persevered with it and turned it into the massive success of the 80s and 90s. It was only with the introduction of the D model in early 90s did the Tomcat receive an optimally powered engine for the first time which did full justice to its operational capability.
      So had the USN given up on the Tomcat like you with the Tejas we might never have experienced the exploits of such an iconic and marvelous aircraft.

      Unless we build our own fighter, press it into service regardless of how inadequate it is, operate and maintain it in real world conditions, make mistakes, learn from them, make continuous upgrades and mods; how do you expect us to produce a competent aircraft considering that we have never ever produced an indigenous fighter before?

      Just because the Tejas is facing growing pains doesn’t mean that we simply dump the LCA and focus on a new project i.e. the HAL AMCA. That would mean moving from one doomed project to another doomed project; all hype no substance. Is that what you really mean? The experience that we have gained with the LCA is invaluable, we just need to see it through. And again I reiterate again the LCA and AMCA are two different weight classes meant to replace different fighters. They complement each other not substitute the other.

      Lastly I don’t understand your fascination with unmanned drones. Machines cannot replace humans in the battlefield. Not now and not in the future PERIOD. Simple reason being in a complex environment like today’s battlefield no machine or AI can ever be adequately equipped or programmed to deal with a hugely complex and ever evolving treat matrix. The UCAVs that you recommend can always be jammed or hacked. You cannot do the same to our pilots. Considering that it just takes a couple of EMP pulse bomb to knock out your entire digital infrastructure how could one recommend relying solely on UAVs and missiles at expense of manned aircraft that provide real time brains on the battlefield. I get it that you are a huge sci-fi fan where automated robots take over our security but that scenario is just not plausible in for at least the next 6-7 decades.

  7. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Even more people have written the obituary of Tejas than have enslaved themselves to the West.

    And yet:
    1) Rafale is out of contention for its attempted coup of 126+89 dominance;
    2) Mirages are exposed for their hanger queen statuses with IAF short circuiting the MTBO for it;
    3) IAF people are left justifying their inane import decisions in multiple cases over the years; and
    4) Only and only because of Tejas, it is the Indian Navy guys who will be deciding if at all the IAF even deserves a Tejas.

    Karma is a Bitch after all. The story of burying its detractors has only just begun.

  8. Shail says:

    @ ~!@#$%^&*()_+
    What does your response mean? What are you saying?
    Any coherent reply with fact analyses or just hype and rants?
    Justifying?? were there to be a replacement NOW..there would be no draw down.
    The cupboard is bare and even SP bloody 2 is still a hangar queen. What the hell do you defend with today?? MiG -21s? dated M2Ks and M29s ( inane decision to upgrade??? )

    you are in a dream world.The Tejas N is still a long way away. The Tejas N will also have to go same development path and time. Do you understand that in that much time China has built 20 warships, many many nuclear and conventional subs including one Carrier with a entire two squadron worth complement of Su-33s with trained pilots in 4 odd years and about 300+combat aircraft ( J-10, J-11, JH-7A etc etc as well as many types of missiles in the time HAL ADA have made 2 LSPs and 2 SPs and you want to protect and praise such incompetence?
    There needs to be a miracle to achieve even similar levels.
    Solutions not Rants is the need of the hour.

  9. Rahul says:

    @Shail and @Mr. Karnad, just wanted to ask you some questions regarding IAF and its inventory which came across to my mind.

    1) Recently I came across a report in the Indo-Russian magazine where the author claims that IAF has 350 !!! Su 30 MKI’s as of 2015? Is it a mere printing mistake from the publishers side? We have, for God’s sake, ordered 272, we have 200+ in 2015, we will have 272 by 2018-2019, how come this figure of 350 is swirling around in press?

    2) Mr Karnad says that the AESA which DRDO is building is actually the “hybrid” version of Elta EL/M 2032…To the best of my knowledge, HAL is building the “Hybrid” version of Elta EL/M 2052 and not 2032(“Hybrid” 2032 is integrated into Mk1 as multi mode radar and not AESA) for integration into Tejas Mk 1 P. DRDO developed AESA is totally an “indigeneous product” under Project Uttam for Mk2, Mig 29’s, Jaguars, Mirage 2000’s….If I am wrong, are these two organizations building the same product???? What purpose will it solve?

    3) Deal for upgrading Mirages was signed in 2011 and for Mig 29 in 2008…At that time AESA had arrived in the market fitted into F-16 Block 60, F-15 SE, F-22 and F-35…The Chinese were also experimenting with J-10 B’s. Then why did not our upgrade deal consisted of an AESA and settled merely for PESA? Same with Navy’s Mig 29’s…If the existing airframe of Mig 29/Mirage 2000’s did not support integration of an AESA, then how come we are going to integrate the indigeneous AESA into them in near future?

  10. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    On the Uttam AESA,

    >The MMR based on 2032 is good for 80 km with a Quartz radome.
    >Both IAF and ADA are reportedly (Saurav Jha) not interested in the ELTA 2052, which in any case were earlier denied. So I guess the processing end is either indigenous or some modified form of Elta 2032 one used for MMR.
    >But still the Uttam AESA based on 2032 is good only upto 100 km.

    Contrast that to the range increases that other countries have achieved while moving from PESA to AESA, even when based on the same PESA processing end.

    There may be some of the following chances that :
    1) the Uttam antenna capability, is limited by the limit of the processing end (indigenous / modified 2032). Thus the processing end of Uttam itself would need an upgrade at some point, IOWs a chance for future growth on the base of 100 km; &/or

    2) the range of 100 km quoted for Uttam is not based on a Quartz Radome presumption and is rather based on a Kevlar Radome presumption (in my view less likely); or

  11. archit says:

    Given the Tejas size weight and hence electrical system on-board quartz would be a better option all round. Processor upgrades would be much easier for an indigenous system and can be incorporated in further versions. In an AWACs scenario, 80 is good enough for a start. I don’t think the Zhuk has been offered to foreign customers other than us.

  12. Shail says:
    If thats the state of the f-35 imagine the Tejas

  13. Rahul says:

    Not sure what you wanted to prove by sharing this link @Shail…

  14. Let me re-confirm!

    Bharat Karnad proposes

    1- We should buy old-used-discontinued Mirage 2000 for $100m each?
    2-Used F16 now available for US$ 20m?
    3-Basic Rafale also at $100m
    4-Tejas Available for <$40m

    What gives nor

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