FGFA deal by Feb-end & why Rafale is going nowhere fast

Real-life hare and tortoise story. The hare is the French Rafale combat aircraft, the tortoise the slow but steady Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). The tortoise is about breasting the tape — with the deal likely to be signed by this February end, i.e,, within the next few weeks.

While the Rafale flashily and ostensibly made an end-run around the various onerous procedural and substantive requirements attending on the IAF’s MMRCA acquisition process, when Prime Minister Modi, ill-advisedly, tried to give France and its vendor Company, Dassault Avions, an unfair advantage by publicly committing to buying 36 Rafales off the shelf, the sheer unaffordability of this fast-dating aircraft which, this blog and my writings have been pounding on about, has put the brakes on achieving the deal anytime soon. It is stuck at the last mile, so to say.

This is no bad thing to happen considering there’s no money to pay Paris, which wants the money up-front. Because, consider the vast quantum involved. At the time Rafale was shortlisted, I had alerted the readers to the fact that the final bill will be nearer $40-$50 billion for 126 aircraft and, all told (inclusive of the costs to construct the infrastructure, such as air-conditioned hangars, etc. as have been built for the Mirage 2000 squadrons in Gwalior), a unit price of $246 million billion. The Rs 63,000 crores the Modi govt has set aside for 36 Rafales works out to $227 million per aircraft. Except, France will not permit any Indian-designed weapons, such as the BVR Astra air-to-air missile, or the Brahmos cruise missile, to be integrated into the Rafale. But it will integrate American-sourced armaments, which is what IAF favours! Meanwhile, Russia has vetoed arming the French Rafale in Indian inventory with the Brahmos. So the Rafale is checkmated, rendered a pretty useless weapons platform unless the Modi govt approves the untested Brit-French-Italian consortium MBDA-made Meteor, which is yet to be operationalized, or buys US-weapons which will have MTCR-induced constraints on range, etc., at the expense of Indian missiles that will loosen the reliance on imported armaments.

But trust the apparently strategically stupid IAF and a compromised MOD to push the Rafale even if this supposed MMRCA will end up being completely non-lethal and harmless. The only bit of hope is that the original notion entertained by Defmin Parrikar of buying double the number of Su-30MKIs for the same number of Rafales and minus the cost of any new infrastructure, etc., will under the circumstances, begin to gain traction, especially in light of Russia’s earnest and positive attitude to transferring FGFA codes, flight control laws to India.

The final FGFA deal that is expected to be signed and worth $3.7 billion will involve the fly-in into India of three FGFA PAK FA aircraft for IAF to begin flying them and for TAC-D in Gwalior to begin writing the manual for tactics, etc., and the transfer of flight control laws and open[air]-frame design to enable ADA to modify the aircraft architecture to suit Indian requirements and source codes, including for the fire control system.

But where India’s procurement contracts are concerned, there’s always and inevitably a foul-up, the downside. There’s one in the FGFA agreement as well. The wondrously incomprehensible and myopic aspect of this deal is the rejection by IAF-MOD of Moscow’s extraordinarily generous offer to have its Saturn jet engine design bureau (that resulted from the merging of the Lyulka and Tumansky design bureaus) jointly with Indian counterpart (GTRE) develop a powerful new era jet power plant — something no other country will deliver on and, despite promises, certainly not the technology hyper-protective US. But, as reported elsewhere, India will instead buy the Saturn AL-41 engines whole to power the Indian-modified FGFAs! It fits in with IAF-MOD thinking of keeping India forever tied to the apron strings of foreign vendors.

An astute Defmin would have seen through this and imposed a corrected decision on IAF-MOD. Apparently, that hasn’t happened, even though, one suspects, that given Parrikar’s partiality to economical options and his measured assessment of cost and benefit — as regards, say, the Su-30MKI as MMRCA instead of Rafale, he is the one speeding the FGFA project along.

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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16 Responses to FGFA deal by Feb-end & why Rafale is going nowhere fast

  1. Rahul(Kolkata) says:

    Various websites are reporting that IAF will import ‘only’ 60 odd FGFA and will keep the fleet small to make it more lethal…

    This Rafale saga has more to do than what meets the eye…Every time a news is floated that the deal will be signed on ‘this’, ‘that’ date/occasion, something exactly the opposite happens…Beginning of New Year, Shiv Aroor ‘confirms’ in his blog that the deal will be signed on 26th Jan…26th Jan is history now, Hollande came, saw and left but the deal is there where it was in the last 4 years; i.e. all the stakeholders claiming the niggling issue holding up the deal will be resolved in “a few weeks”….I mean, what is happening here? Is it a joke or what?

    This leads me to believe that maybe IAF is ‘secretly’ building up its fleet where 100’s of Rafales have already been inducted and talks are going on for more….Otherwise, I don’t think IAF-MOD-French people are so eager to make them look like silly dumbass infront of the whole world for the last few years….

    • Shaurya says:

      >>Otherwise, I don’t think IAF-MOD-French people are so eager to make them look like silly dumbass infront of the whole world for the last few years….

      If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, chances are it is a ….

  2. Viv S says:

    The technical aspects of the article are all over the place. Case in point –

    Except, France will not permit any Indian-designed weapons, such as the BVR Astra air-to-air missile, or the Brahmos cruise missile, to be integrated into the Rafale. But it will integrate American-sourced armaments, which is what IAF favours! Meanwhile, Russia has vetoed arming the French Rafale in Indian inventory with the Brahmos. So the Rafale is checkmated, rendered a pretty useless weapons platform unless the Modi govt approves the untested Brit-French-Italian consortium MBDA-made Meteor, which is yet to be operationalized, or buys US-weapons which will have MTCR-induced constraints on range, etc., at the expense of Indian missiles that will loosen the reliance on imported armaments.

    – The French are quite willing to integrate the Astra. That they’ll charge an arm and a leg for it is a different matter..

    – The BrahMos is a massive 2.5 ton missile that can only be carried by the Su-30MKI, and then too only singly, after structural reinforcements. (The BrahMos-M is at least a decade away, possibly more.)

    – The Rafale’s arsenal is very expensive but far from useless. The only missing component is an ARM (though they’ve carried out studies to integrate the Kh-31P).

    – The Meteor has been extensively tested. Its operational with the SwAF right now. Will be operational on the Rafale & Eurofighter by 2018.

    – The only US-weapon that is MTCR limited is the JASSM, a cheaper alternative (given the integration costs) to which is already available in the SCALP-EG.

    • The point is double jeopardy: the French thrust, entirely understandable, is to compel India to arm the Rafale with French ordnance, and incentivizing this with sky-high costs for integrating other, even Indian, weapons, and skyrocketing the price-tag. Further, it is bad enough IAF will be tied to a plane but also all its weapons-set means putting an entire capability in real danger, especially in the absence of sovereign guarantee, etc.

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        Worse still UAE and Saudis have the SCALP/Stormshadow and UAE airforce which is almost the size of PAF is officially run by 4000 people. Which implies its run by Pakis and contractors.

        On top of that Brahmos (air launched) at 2.5 ton is not a disqualification it is the main qualification of the system when compared to SCALP/Stormshadow/JASSM. Because all of the others are Subsonic systems. Essentially the western countries have again fallen back on the old methods (don’t need speed because its stealthy). Till off course their enemy forces them to revise their methods at which point they will being to sell the moronic concept of Speed is the new stealth.

        In any case for the future, the Brahmos, BrahmosNG and Brahmos-II are going to be the main strike low level stealthy cruise missiles for IAF and such missiles can only be deployed from external hardpoints (something only a PAKFA with its tunneled out underside will be able to manage). And whether you put a stealthy SCALP or Stormshadow on a Rafale or a JASSM on the fat lady, you will still end up with a messy averaged out RCS.

        Also with the GTRE rushing at least 3/4 turbofan projects on under 400 kgf and the DRDO well acquainted with highly integrated INS-GPS, it is only a matter of time for our own air launched subsonic systems to be churned out fast. When again we will be faced with a stiff bill for trying to integrate it with western systems.

        As the Rafale deal gets older, it is fast losing even the last few positive points it had in its favour (that of immediate induction and data fusion).

  3. Raahul Kumar says:

    “The wondrously incomprehensible and myopic aspect of this deal is the rejection by IAF-MOD of Moscow’s extraordinarily generous offer to have its Saturn jet engine design bureau (that resulted from the merging of the Lyulka and Tumansky design bureaus) jointly with Indian counterpart (GTRE) develop a powerful new era jet power plant — something no other country will deliver on and, despite promises, certainly not the technology hyper-protective US”

    That doesn’t make any sense, no other contender will offer any engine technology. I hope Parrikar or Modi overrule this decision, because this is too good an opportunity to pass up.

    • Chanakya Chatterjee says:

      Mr. Karnad

      What is wrong with you, who suggests replacing an air to surface missile like brahmos with a air to air one like meteor? How is that even an option given that both have very different roles

      And the rafale has two most important roles

      Tested operational aesa equipped low observable aircraft with super cruise like ability to be used for sead , dead and air superiority roles in the medium combat aircraft role in support with the super sukhoi which will be a heavy aircraft and never low observable… for the period 2018 to 2025, 7 critical years before the operational fgfa comes in

      • Chanakyasc@ — Have said Brahmos, not Meteor, just the reverse of what you say I have said. Pls read correctly. By the way when talking about Rafale for the period 2018-2025, do note that the 26 French aircraft MAY reach their full strength if at all, by 2030!

  4. quickboy says:

    I just pray to GOD that after getting the source codes and Prototypes IAF wont start another thing, Like going to France and UK with those to “IMPROVE”. If that happens it will be death bell for India-Russia JV. I did read somewhere that we wanted French to improve Brahmos (French does not have anything like that anyway). Are we now doing TOT in reverse?. Does the West really have so superior a tech compared to Russians. Considering they could not even get THRUST VECTORING right. Also is the so called western superior tech more like adding features to smart phones, like you “lick it to call someone instead of tap” or shake the phone to take pics instead of touching the button and so on?.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Regards – “I did read somewhere that we wanted French to improve Brahmos (French does not have anything like that anyway). Are we now doing TOT in reverse?. Does the West really have so superior a tech compared to Russians.”

      ……………………………..

      Yes Russian systems are 18 where the Western systems are 20. But what is never admitted in this uttarah-bees ka dhanda is that we actually can do our own research till at least 16 and our work would easily get done by mere 14 and countries like North Korea threaten world powers with just 8.

      This case you mention was there a few months back. Brahmos is likely to have the guidance re-branding done by DRDO esp. the supposed multispectral sensor on the Army version. But the INS-GPS integration is very much an Indian development seeded from earlier times. And so it should be protected at all cost. For the INS-GPS that was developed if we feel like we need a new better one then we should be expending money on DRDO. The danger was to the INS-GPS at that time hence the pre-emption of the offer. But then again largely the same route should have been followed for the other multi-spectral sensors, imaging-radars etc. also where Indian money should have been spent on Indian goods instead there is always a well oiled machinery that gets sustenance from weapons imports and even from so called technology imports.

      Take for example the failed Brahmos test of Feb 2009. At that time the multi spectral sensor had worked about 1 km too late into its end-game lock on. Mr. Pillai the project head for Brahmos had at that time mentioned that the missile worked perfect till the last movement. Mr. Pillai’s words were drowned out by Gen. Deepak Kapoor (you bet) who, as if on cue, claimed that he will not order 240 odd Brahmos till he was shown a working missile. He even threatened to visit the test site (probably a first for any Army Chief). The multispectral sensor was sourced from Israelies by ‘technology importers’ within DRDO structure. The Army knew this to be the case and obviously was happy about it.

      But what was apparent from Mr. Pillai’s comments was that a INS-GPS combo does not just go kaput unless some hanky panky was attempted. Fortunately the INS-GPS combo is present on board, both the Brahmos missile as well as the Mobile Autonomous Launcher. And somebody from Indian R&D establishment checked both the INS input and the GPS signals and from both on board missile telemetry as well as the MAL. The INS was made by HAL and if it was defective then a whole lot more of Indian military hardware would be falling out of the sky. But the GPS signal was not Indian. And if you check the GPS signal at two different places at same time and find that one of the signal has shifted by a little (say 1 km) compared to the true readings then you can make a safe bet about what really happened. Later a ‘rumour’ was heard that the GPS had ‘blinked’ at exactly the right moment.

      The suitable moment too was obviously tracked from some point. You cannot leave a signal around a certain place, off by ~1 kilometer for the whole day of the anticipated test. Obviously Indian R&D ground – staff would come equipped with simple GPS receivers (in any case everybody has smart phones these days). You can safely rule out the tracking from within the test establishment – Russians would have their own people involved since Brahmos is a JV with them.

      So where was the right moment of 1 km tracked from and why did the GPS blinked and why did Gen. Deepak Kapoor threaten the two things that he did – no orders and visit to test site (what did he know of and how did he know about it)?

      Reality is more interesting then people care to admit. As for us small time well wishers of India we have to admit that unless we indigenize everything we need, somebody will blackmail us and use our weakness against us.

      India is economically twice bigger than Russia. India is in terms of human resources nearly 9 times bigger than Russia. But for us Pakistan is held out as a major challenge, oftentimes by our own people. On the other hand the Russians have valued themselves as good enough to hold fort against the combined mite of US+Western Europe+China. How did this scenario come about? Why is this never talked about?

      • quickboy says:

        Thanks for the reply. I’am actually just a Lawyer, as usual wont understand the whole technology etc. But being an Indian, I would always want US to be the best and prefer not to be blackmailed or anything.

        All you stated in our lingo well points a finger of suspicion as to our real status. I saw a video on youtube recently where some Pakistani self appointed expert saying the Blizzard caused in some glacier where their soldiers and camps just went away was caused by Indian energy weapons. Well I would say someone there is causing lots of “Indiaphobia” in that country. Maybe they too need some kickbacks from weapon sales and the like.

        The way we teach our history is really bad too. Instead of saying the fact that our ancestors were perhaps the first to organise Naval conquests and reached most of south asia, And our empires like the Mauryans almost extending from Europe to South Asian countries and our own cultural and religious exports reaching most of the worlds humanity, We always teach we were a bunch of small fiefdoms which were always at the mercy of some invader etc….

        Well I think we need to revisit our own history from the beginning to build a NATION, which is actually a different thing from “territory”. Nation actually instils national pride, which in current India seems to be treated as an offence. That is the difference between us and Russians. Russians have a national pride to protect, We are taught that we were always born to be treated as slaves, Which is actually a lie of course, and a “Blasphemy” against this land which survived it’s culture and lifestyle for many thousands of years.

  5. Rahul(Kolkata says:

    Mr Karnad, it is Feb 17 and still there is no news about any FGFA deal…Having seen Indian defence procurements for the last 20 years, it does not give me even an inch of confidence that the deal will be done in the next 8, sorry 9(2016 leap year) working days…..

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