Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in a TV interview (to Karan Thapar) yesterday evening sounded very determined that 36 Rafales would be brought from Dassault Avions, France, and that Paris would have to meet Delhi’s stated price (not exceeding $7 billion, which figure, of course, he didn’t mention). In this context, queried about the significance of the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed when Hollande was here for the Republic Day parade, he stated that this document is “meaningful only to the extent that the procedure [for advancing the deal] is laid out.” The only relief for India, ironically, would be if the French too stick to their negotiating figure of $11+ billion.
The trouble with making price the decisive factor — “Price, he said, “is the only issue…is the problem”, and implied India would walk away from the deal unless India “gets the right price” — is that all the other negatives attending on this horrendous buy are sought to be ignored. While the Indian position is now firmed up, Parrikar’s support for the Rafale suggests that despite his instinct telling him to go in for many more Su-30MKIs obtainable for the same investment, the BJP regime feels bound to honour PM Narendra Modi’s word to Hollande, and is doing its mostest to get the deal done, whatever the other costs (such as complicating operations, logistics, infrastructure, etc) that the IAF and country will have to bear for decades to come.
This raises the question — what exactly is Paris’ quid for the Indian quo? Some well connected persons believe it is Hollande’s promise of supporting India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, whenever that issue formally comes up for consideration. Realistically speaking, and short of the UN imploding as did the League of Nations in the 1930s when that body proved incapable of stopping Mussolini from occupying Ethiopia, Imperial Japan from absorbing Manchuria, and Hitler from taking over the Sudentanland region of Czechoslovakia, and a new world body is erected in its place, that is never. The provincial politician in Modi, however, seems to be acting as per the Gujarati trader’s credo of honouring a verbal commitment. Except the Rafale deal is in the external realm where “the word” counts for less than nothing, a fact-of-life the PM either does not understand and, if he does, does not quite appreciate. And India ends up paying the price. Any argument therefore about the uneconomical aspects of the Rafale deal is for the birds!
But why’s the IAF so dumb as to disregard the operational aspects and push so vehemently for the Rafale? In a previous piece, I had stated that for the unit cost of $270 million per Rafale, India could buy three LCAs @ $90 million or 2 Su-MKIs @ $130 million. Vice Admiral AK Singh, former FOC-in-C, Eastern Naval Command, and a stalwart of the military procurement process, called to say that my figures were, perhaps, for fully weaponised Tejas and Su-30 and, by way of more “correct” figures, mentioned that the cost of a clean Tejas (as released by HAL) is $30 million, and $50 million for a Su-30MKI. By the AK Singh calculus then the country can have NINE LCAs or FIVE Su-30s. Fully armed and equipped, the cost figures for these three aircraft get even more skewed. A basic weapons load (of A2A missiles & A2G rockets/bombs) will up the price of a Rafale to $400 million per aircraft, $50 million/Tejas, and $90 million/Su-30. Thus, all-up cost ($400 million) of a Rafale will actually fetch IAF EIGHT fully-armed Tejas and 4.5 Su-30s.
In my books and writings have stressed the importance of quantity over quality, and how an exorbitantly-priced Rafale, assuming it is fielded in war considering the Indian military’s inclination to not deploy its most prized platforms during hostilities (recall Vikrant confined to Vizag harbour during the 1965 War! Mirage 2000 was featured in Kargil because of Vajpayee govt’s order to IAF not to cross LoC) would be swarmed and killed by the more numerous Pakistan-assembled, ex-Russian, Chinese rejigged MiG-21 design — JF-17s, each costing Islamabad no more than $22 million. (The $22 million price tag for the JF-17 being disclosed to VADM Singh by retd PAF AVM Shehzad Chaudhury at a recent 2nd-track meet.)
Indian armed services are known for stodginess, not strategic imagination and operational verve. And the civilian bureaucrats running the show in MOD are entirely innocent of any specialized knowledge. So one can pretty much know the quality of advice provided the national security-wise unlettered politicians. Even so, one expected Parrikar to be a bit more on the ball, use his common sense and publicly available information to +try and convince Modi about the sheer wastefulness of the Rafale deal, and decide on more reasonable, money-saving, options (including purchasing Mirage 2000s from UAE and Qatar, as proposed in an earlier blog).
Then again, just may be, IIT grads are not all they are cracked up to be.