Reasons Why the Modi govt stuck on Rafale

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.

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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35 Responses to Reasons Why the Modi govt stuck on Rafale

  1. Sriram Datla says:

    I don’t think the raffale deal would attain fruition. How will either side agree when each are quoting a figure of +/- 4 billion. I think the recent reports in the papers which suggests that the govt is interested in making lockheed martin build f 16 in India makes me believe in days to come the deal will be watered down and finally cancelled. If F 16’s are finally built here we could also absorb a lot of technology for tejas.

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

    F-16s of whatever version has zero tech inputs for LCA (any version). Whatever was needed from foreign countries for LCA is already here, ordered up, paid for and if you see a slack it is only because of MoD+HAL+IAF shenanigans regarding actual production Mk-1A. Nothing to do with foreign inputs/part.

    The problem with various american offers is further that their birds have been rejected in formal tests by the IAF. Who will have to guts to order F-16s and/or F-18s which had:
    1) issues in Leh engine restarts (I think it was Vishnu Som who reported this) and
    2) issues with Sustained Turn Rates (perhaps Col. Ajai Shukla)

    Typhoons and Gripens are not any better either on these counts.

    Rafale never made sense on its own and the only way it made sense was when something more than just the weapon deal was involved. In any case if UNSC seat is the quid pro quo and not some esoteric nuke explosion simulation capability, then I am afraid the Rafale is a Lemon (Galgal wala). My guess is, more the delay for Rafale, better the chances of India buying Su-35 or increasing the order for Su-30MKI.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Looks like its not 11 Bil USD vs 7 Bil USD. Got to talk about Euros so bump that up by 10% more merely on account of the right denomination and looks like India says 9 Bil Euros.

      Col. Ajai Shukla reports:
      Business Standard understands that Dassault has quoted about Euro 12 billion (Rs 91,548 crore), while Indian negotiators are refusing to go above Euro 9 billion (Rs 68,499 crore).

      Parrikar told India Today TV: “Price is the problem which has to be resolved. Unless I get the right price, I cannot sign.”

      Debunking recent media articles that a deal was imminent, most recently in Hindustan Times on February 11, Parrikar said ironing out the remaining issues would take “a few months”.

      Pressed on the question of time-frame, Parrikar responded: “You can’t commit yourself to a time, because this is not a negotiation for a few hundred crores. This is thousands of crores. I should not… put a time line on my price negotiation.”

      “As of now, the negotiation is for 36 (fighters). There are many possibilities, but this deal is for 36”, he said.

    • Soorya says:

      I read somewhere that the quid pro quo for buying Rafales was help of French DCNS in designing Nuclear attack submarines or the design for Highly enriched uranium reactor for the nuke subs.

  3. Shaurya says:

    Now, lockheed offers to Modi the great F16 to be produced in India. On one hand, India has its own F16 in the Tejas and on the other hand the Russians are working with us on nuclear submarines, hyper sonic missiles and powerful stealth air dominance platforms. We should know, who is more strategic.

    How about this, I will just be happy if the US does not put embargos on whatever components are used in the Indian military on our next nuclear test and stop funding the PA.

    The gall to offer a dated platform like F16 to India, they really think the world is their poodle.

  4. vineet kumar says:

    I do agree as Rafael deal is economically bad but then ten years down the time who will be replacing our jaguar n mirag fleet dedicated solely to delivering nukes. LCA mk1a as we all know is atleast 5 years away from induction. Then su-30 is not equipped with terrain hugging radar neither is airframe is tested for terrain hugging. We all are talking about AMCA but yet we have no operational aesa radar. Project Uttam may produce it but will take time. As far I m concerned AMCA is farce will take minimum of 20 years to test n develop 5th gen technologies n flight testing n then serial production n then induction into force n then finally squardon foc. See so many Steps. So to maintain technological edge over China n pak India is going ahead with Rafael deal. If this comes with 50% offset then I think its not a bad deal.

    • vineet@ — One can come up with all sorts of excuses to continue to rely on imported aircraft. But a time comes when India will have to buckle down and make its own military hardware and that time is mow. Starting with the most challenging weapons platform — a combat aircraft, is good beginning. And Tejas is a perfectly good warplane in the long neglected process to attain full self-reliance. Moreover, the availability of the 1A and the 2052 Elta based AESA is far nearer completion than is acknowledged by IAF and motivated others.

      • vineet kumar says:

        I totally support LCA n AMCA but we will have to maintain a balance. Take example of china its developing its 5th gen fighter on one side n buying su-35 on other side. Rafael need can be eliminated only if we invest in LCA mk 2 which IAF isn’t doing. Navy alone can provide the trust LCA mk2 project needs. The main culprit is IAF who routinely changed ASQR to derail n defame LCA n lack of co ordination between civilian MoD n IAF. IAF is a spoilt child. Its time to make it pay…

      • vineet kumar says:

        And as far LCA mk 1a is concerned its actually LCA mk 1naval with area radar n levcons which were added with naval inputs. Otherwise air force never would have accepted LCA in more than one squardon. Now LCA mk 2 which navy is pursuing with have GE 414 engine equipped with tvs nozzle making it more capable than grippen n on par with Rafael in many fields exept range.
        My point is promote indegenus development n yet maintain credible capability.

    • Sam says:

      Replying for another comment in this thread. I could not reply directly to it for some reason. One reason I feel the Chinese are buying the Su35 is because they want the Russian engine. They managed to hack Lockheed & Martin and steal plans for stealth design etc. to create copies of F-22 and F-35(though how much they stole and how much they can implement is still questionable), but they still do not have an engine(built by Pratt & Whitney) powerful enough for those planes. Their prototypes run on Russian engines. By buying more Russian planes with similar engines they hope to reverse engineer this. The Russians were very unwilling until recently to sell then this. But since the sanctions the Russians have been forced to make some tough decisions. Read this:

    • quickboy says:

      Let us first build the plane, AMCA or not, Then we can start thinking about our own AESA or whatever, Currently we does not have any AMCA , so how are we going to develop or integrate an AESA radar, let it first fly with whatever radar we have or are rumoured to be making with Israel or whatever. See why Tejas was delayed, Tejas should have been made first and hen waited for other things, We waited for our indigenous engine too far, We could have started testing the plane much earlier, had we used whatever engine we had then. It is a shame to say we will make RADAR, ENGINE, and stealth and all and then only we will fix the bolts and then start testing, It should be other way, Make the plane and fly with whatever you have, improvement can come later, “A bird in the hand is worth two on the branch”, Is it not?.

      Look at Russians PAK-FA they admit the engines for that one will be ready after another couple of years, But they are showing it off and testing whith modified engines they have in hand, It is strange that we cannot do anything like that, WHy is it so?. Are we Indians too fearful to take any risk?.

      Govt is shying on many things like the Hypersonic missile and fifth gen fighter, 56 inch chest should have a strong spine to support it, Otherwise it will simply becoma a statue bust. I support Modi and BJP openly, However I think often we as a Nation are simply too fearful. You should know why Kargil happened, Pakistan at the time tested Nukes, They thought India will be too fearful to do anything if they encroach now, But did not work that way. Once you are ready to take a few risks you start to get respected, You cant have the cake and eat it too. You should show all of the world you are ready to use whatever you have, It is that readiness which will ensure that no one will meddle with you. A slight exhibition of softness and undecided style of functioning will let loose all those mad dogs on you.

      • vineet kumar says:

        Will u be ready to sit n go to war in such plane designed n build with ” whatever” is available. Plz have mercy on our soldiers. Building a technology demonstrator is totally different from war ready plane. Take example of LCA is have superb aerobatics skills but fall short on combat ready. Do u know IAF didn’t support this plane so it still lacks IRST so only day time flying but naval LCA with naval inputs has no such handicaps.

      • vineet kumar says:

        Will u be ready to sit n go to war in such plane designed n build with ” whatever” is available. Plz have mercy on our soldiers. Building a technology demonstrator is totally different from war ready plane. Take example of LCA it has superb aerobatics skills but fall short on combat duties. Do u know IAF didn’t support this plane so it still lacks IRST so only day time flying but naval LCA with naval inputs has no such handicaps.

      • quickboy says:

        @vineetkumar:– I remember reading somewhere in April 2011 and earlier on Nov 2008 that Tejas proved night flying and combat abilities, So is there anything anything that is missing on those?.

      • akash says:

        Vineet, what rubbish are you talking of man. When did IRST become a necessary condition for daytime flying?

      • vineet kumar says:

        It is to clear some queries ppl asked me… lCA lacks IRST so it is not effective night time interceptor. Secondly dropping a GPS guided bomb at night time is totally different from night time interceptor , the primary task or called main combat duty. LCA creared night time flying but is miles away from night time combat.

  5. MS says:

    I am glad to see Mr Karnad bring about the point on quantity over quality(ofcourse quality of LCA is not bad either). Because I have felt that when we see thousand birds of the enemy in the sky we will panic if we do not have enough of our own. No one talks about it. We are fixated over Pak when we should be matching with China(difficult though, it is to do).

    This is the best time to buy technology and adapt it for futher innovation, when there is not too much money floating around in the world.

    If the quid is nuclear test simulation data or nuclear submarine tech then “may be” it is worth a few billion extra. For a UNSC seat? Oh, we can do without. Let us grow and use our might to get it.

  6. quickboy says:

    Bharatji, One man can take a Horse to the river, A thousand cannot make it drink. That is what all this talk is about.
    Well IAF does not want to deal with Russians or our BABUs, Both of them treat them as Fauji and does not give a big accomodation like French or U.S does, Russians dont care if you have five stars or ten for that matter. These have been discussed many times over , nothing new

    The first thing IAF needs desperately is an in-house design platform , Just like what Navy has got. Those should be the ones designing what they want and then development can be taken up by ADA. So there will not be any BABU-FAUJI ego clash.

    • Agree. But it was always IAF’s call to have an in-house combat aircraft design bureau (like the Navy has its warship directorate) which it has not felt the need to have because of its import fixation.

  7. quickboy says:

    i think French have lost it somewhere, by refusing TOT. The news in most media (well Indian), is that there is plan to have a TATA-F-16 under Make in India. An old plane, which had problems with restarting in leh trials if the reports are to be believed, Let us see if F-16 parts and spares will be made in India too. If that is so we can make and sell those to Pakistan, who seems to be so addicted to this plane as much as our Air Force is addicted to Raffales.

    Also I’am reading Lockheed saying this is new advanced F-16 ever to be designed etc….Looks like “Naya colgate…..ab sirf namak hi nahi ajrak bhi hai”…..thing

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

    @BK you had reported that the DRDO HSTDV was on hold.

    Has there been any change since.

    • HSTDV remains on hold. As does the next test-firing of A-5. GOI doesn’t want to risk opprobrium from the US and the West, it seems (especially not before Modi’s Washington trip for the “Nuclear Security Summit”).

      • satyaki says:

        For how long will the next test firing of A-5 be on hold ? The Modi govt is disgusting. The UPA under Manmohan was about as good/bad. The Rahul Gandhi etc brigades would be far worse.

      • satyaki says:

        Possibly the Manmohan singh govt was a little better than the Modi one. They even tested the K-4 in 2014. No test of that missile ever since. Wonder what motivates such compromises from Modi. Goats have been going from bad to worse election after election.

  9. satyaki says:

    Where has there been any opprobrium for an A-5 test? The previous A-5 tests never led to any real opprobrium in the form of sanctions.

  10. You are underestimating how much GOI is sensitive to not upsetting the US!

    • satyaki says:

      Does this sensitivity come from some special leverage the U.S has over the powers that be in GoI ? What leverage is that ? Anyone who believes that there will be outrage because of a 4th/5th Agni V test after no outrage for tests 1-3 would be foolish. Or is it that some arm twisting is on ehind the scenes ?

  11. Western (mostly US) pressure on GOI to not resume testing is a constant. The curious part is why India succumbs to it. At the core of this calculus is a complex of reasons (not least the fact that 97% of GOI secretaries and others in high position, have their progeny in the US awaiting a green card or whatever) and the belief that a friendly US helps this country.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      The case of Vikram Buddhi (son of Budhi Kota Subbarao) is sufficient to ensure compliance.

      Surprising thing is that nobody (not even most greenhorn Nationalists) ever ask why and how Vikram Buddhi could have gotten so pissed off. After all he must have had some reason for this behaviour.

      As they say – friendship with US is even more dangerous than enmity with US.

  12. JPS says:

    Such articles should be verified before being published, unless there are some other positive pro govt ulterior motives in taking out such articles. Else such generic knowledge based articles tend to polarise opinions unnecessarily and is detrimental to country’s security requirements. You are tending to fall even behind Pakistan leave alone China in technical capabilities and need to desperately offset the technical asymmetry in the short term. The Rafael ac has been selected after extensive performance trials of the best competitive ac in the world and the Tejas is of no comparison.

  13. JPS says:

    @Article by Bharat Karnad on Rafale deal.
    Writer has no knowledge of the complexities of product support and maintenance involved in maintaining military aircraft. Rafale is a game changer as it not only comes with top line technology but assured and reliable product support by French OEMs. Compare the product support of Mirage and HAL supported fleet and the difference is evident. The article is biased and far away from ground reality.

  14. JPS says:

    Pricing and quantity leads to a total cost and is upto to the Govt to decide as per it’s finances. And in that light 126 may not be in its budget and is a decision that has to be respected. In that light and the fact that it is going against its make in India pet project, shows that the govt is still intent on building capability and not ignoring it and it seems to be taking the IAF view. India is today in a position to buy the best equipment and no longer needs to do barter trading and be stuck with obsolete equipment. However you also need numbers without compromise of capability. The numbers Can be Tejas, FGFA, Gripen Make in India or an enhanced Tejas or MCA with foreign- make in India collaboration after Rafael comes, so that we can understand the true capabilities and reverse engineer under make in India. However one cannot cross the limit of Sqns.

    • Jawbains@ — Rafale affordability is the core issue. Given the priceiness of this ac, it licensed production is ruled out. IAF, moreover, has failed convincingly to articulate a role for it. So just 3 sqdns of this aircraft make no sense whatsoever.

      • JPS says:

        The numbers are similar to the M2000 numbers and the ac is an air dominance multi role fighter with capabilities short of F22/35. The effects of that era and the present would be similar on both our adversaries. The utilisation and force packaging logic would be similar if more Sqns are not bought. It therefore becomes the much needed oxygen to cover the next 3/4 years post induction which should give a time margin to indigenous development. The Tejas at Bahrain was only a technological demonstrator. Let us give it its worth in accordance and not get carried away.In which case the bulk Sqns of Tejas would form the remainder of bulk once they induct and are proven as a fighting machine in service. Once the teething issues surface will the true value emerge.

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