All war planning ought to be on the basis of the worst case. That’s a truism. But the worst imaginable circumstances still have to bear some relation to reality and should be based on reasonable probability calculus. That there is cooperation and collaboration between China and Pakistan in the conventional and nuclear military fields, leading to sharing of intelligence, and transfer of weapons and related technologies is to acknowledge a fact. To conclude from this that China will join with Pakistan in waging general military hostilities against India is, however, to indulge one’s fancies and is belied by history.
Time and again, having initiated conflicts that rapidly turned against it on the ground, Islamabad hoped, and fervently pleaded for, the Chinese militarily to intervene — open a second front, to stave off inevitable defeat. This happened in 1965 when Beijing, trying to please its partner, warned Delhi about some of its livestock on the disputed mountainous border being herded off by Indians which probable cause for war was immediately rendered laughable when, to Beijing’s mortification, Indian opposition leaders, the socialist Madhu Limaye, among them, marched to the Chinese embassy gates in Chanakyapuri offering a gaggle of bleating goats in train as recompense. In 1971, Yahya waited in Islamabad, Niazi in Dhaka, for the “yellow army” to save Pakistan’s goose/goat from being tandoored with the Indian army contingents speedily converging on the Pak forces in soon-to-be Bangladesh, and waited some more before giving up the ghost and abjectly surrendering.
This to say that no country — a calculating and cautious China least of all — will fight on another’s country’s behalf or help out if its means courting danger for itself, let alone save, even an “all weather friend” — Pakistan that has managed once again to muddle into yet another military mess of its own creation. China will do everything short of actually deploying its forces especially now and in the future when it knows that opening a war front in the north and east in concert with Pakistan doing the same in the west, for any reason whatsoever, could likely end — should the situation become dire enough to India to merit it — Agni-5s popping up mushroom clouds over the extended Shanghai region and abruptly ending China’s run as economic power. If the Chinese were not foolish enough to do this in the past when much less was at stake, it is likely they will be even more circumspect now and in the future when, other than concerns of avoiding irreparable damage and destruction to itself, will be preoccupied with displacing the US as the dominant great power rather than stepping into the breach for a whiny but risk-acceptant Pakistan on its flanks. So a two front war featuring China and Pakistan is not only inconceivable but the weakest possible predicate for Indian force planning.
So why is the IAF brass so vociferous in drumming up fear of precisely this contingency? To wit, Vice Chief AM BS Dhanoa in March 2016 who averred:”Our numbers are not adequate to execute an air campaign in a two-front scenario… Probability of a two front scenario is an appreciation which you need to do. But are the numbers adequate? No.” For his part, DCAS Air Marshal R K S Bhadauria revealed IAF’s plan behind such statements, saying a decision to fill the full MMRCA complement will be made after the 36 Rafales are first secured, meaning IAF will thereafter argue that having gone a third in with the Rafale, it makes sense to go full in with this same plane, damn the treasury-bankrupting costs of going in a third and, even more, fully with Rafale. (http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/not-enough-fighters-for-two-front-war-iaf-116031000648_1.html). Obviously then, the two-front war-talk is not for any grand reasons of geostrategics (assuming Vayu Bhavan has sense enough to read the unfolding geopolitical situation correctly). But because it serves IAF’s parochial purposes well, particularly in propelling its preferred but wasteful and unnecessary procurement of the French Rafale combat aircraft — a decision hanging fire for some years now. Such an improbable war scenario is being summoned up as a last gasp argument to push the Modi government into signing up for this white elephant of a plane. By doing so, Vayu Bhavan is resorting to an old and tested tactic favoured by the military — frighten the generally national security strategy-wise ignorant and illiterate political ruler-generalist bureaucrat (in MOD/Finance) tandem operating in Delhi into anteing up scarce funds for near useless military hardware purchases that invariably leave the country in a bigger financial-cum-national security hole than before.
But Let’s look at some details. Air chief Marshal Arup Raha soon after assuming his post in Sept 2014 himself provided figures for a contract for 126 Rafales — $25 billion (or Rs 1,50,000 crore). Assuming the deal would be signed by end-2014, Raha had also stated that delays couldn’t be brooked because the last of the Rafales will enter service only by 2025 by when, and this he didn’t say, these aircraft would be way on the other side of antique. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/iaf-can-t-afford-delay-in-rafale-deal-air-chief/story-CKAPRC58Tvmd0hHz0BvyrJ.html)
Except two years later and properly worked out, this $25 billion is, actually the projected lifetime cost of just 36 of this aircraft inclusive of the necessary infrastructure, spares, weapons, etc. But two years is a long time and this figure is too big not to balk at. Whence, the Rafale decision, fortunately, is on the verge of becoming a non-starter, notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impetuous and, hence, foolish decision to travel to Paris bearing the gift of a buy of a third of the requirement 126 MMRCAs at, as it turns out, about the same total cost! Quick on the uptake, Modi has perhaps realized the costs of his unmerited intervention and is, therefore, staying his and PMO’s (read NSA Ajit Doval’s) hand in pushing the Rafale regardless. In other words, he is leaving it to the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has favoured the more cost-effective Su-30 MKIs, to extricate him and the country from a difficult situation by not peremptorily nullifying the deal as allowing it to wither away, die a slow death, in the Price Negotiation Committee. It saves Modi’s face with President Francoise Hollande to whom he had made the Rafale buy offer, even as Paris does a slow burn.
Seeking to do an end-run around Parrikar’s Su-30 option, Raha on February 18 this year volunteered that the Rafale, which he insists on calling “MMRCA”, and Sukhoi-30 requirements are “slightly different, [each with its] own capabilities.” “They complement each other but do not replace each other”, he intoned. Important to note he didn’t dilate on just what the differences are between the Rafale and Su-30, or how Rafale is indispensable. Su-30 is primarily an air dominance aircraft that can outdo the Rafale in air defence, interdiction/interception, and strike mission-roles as well. This is vouched for by all the reputed international aviation experts, among them Dr. Karlo Copp, the highly regarded Australian fighter aircraft analyst, who considers Su-30, all things considered on a comparative basis, the best combat aircraft flying, period. Indeed, so pronounced is Su-30’s superiority even a yokel would look askance at IAF’s choice of Rafale. More fundamentally, the low, medium, and heavy combat aircraft categories IAF’s force-structuring plans rely on are at best disingenuous, at worst ridiculous. (For analysis in detail about why this is so and for insights into other aspects of the country’s manifold military weaknesses, do read my book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’!)
The CAS then drew an over-familiar arrow from the IAF’s quiver, namely, a warning about the supposed drawdown of combat squadrons and to deflect potential criticism about rank bad force planning by the IAF HQrs that obtained this deplorable situation, he maintained that air forces everywhere face the same problems of obsolescence in their respective cycles of operations. “It is not new or specific to Indian Air Force,” he assured journalists at Aero India (with almost all media persons entirely innocent about what operational cycles or anything else remotely technical mean and thus are reduced to being just obedient regurgitators of whatever is proffered by uniformed types). Raha added that if the Rafale agreement were inked that day, the first squadron will be available only in three years and the rest in 5-6 years. (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-02-19/news/59304999_1_sukhoi-iaf-chief-arup-raha). Raha apparently hoped no would notice the discrepancy in the induction timelines he had glossed over. In 2014, he had claimed the last of the Rafales would enter IAF by 2025. By Feb 2016, apprehensive about the definite obsolescence of the Rafale by the 2nd decade of the 21st century becoming a factor in nixing the deal altogether, he had collapsed that time frame for the public’s and Modi govt’s consumption from 11 years to 9 years. Alas, this is a minor matter and akin, as the phrase goes, to dressing up a pig with lipstick.
In March 2016 VCAS Dhanoa, in a concerted attempt in line with Raha’s pronouncements seeking to derail Parrikar, pitched in with the implied criticism of Su-30 with its serviceability alleged in the 35%-40% range by assuming 90% serviceability of the Rafale saying “If we have 35 squadrons and 90 percent serviceability, it will be as good as having [the authorized strength of] 42 squadrons.” By this reckoning the natural solution for India would be to do what’s being planned for the production of Kamov utility helicopters — Tata will also make all the spares in-country, thereby ensuring high serviceability rates. That this solution has not been implemented for the Su-30MKI only confirms HAL’s and IAF’s duffer-headed policies. DCAS Bhadauria joined the melee by citing the US sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, asserting this made his life “more difficult”. He now has “to put more hi-tech platform [read Rafale] against it.” “The MMRCA is designed in such a way”, he explained, “that we need to offset this capability. If you demonstrate your deterrence, we should have peace because he will know that he will be hit very badly.” (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/do-not-have-the-numbers-to-fully-fight-two-front-war-iaf/). This last suggests IAF’s assessment that Rafale can out-match Su-30, really?!! Bhadauria must know something the rest of the aviation world doesn’t.
It is hard to know what to make of the above sort of statements by Messers Raha, Dhanoa & Bhaduaria except to say it smells of quiet desperation to buy French and to persist with the cost-prohibitive import habit IAF (and the armed forces, generally) have cultivated over the years with the connivance of the political and bureaucratic establishment. Such import-tilt is sustained, moreover, by the extraordinarily resilient and entrenched system of payoffs established over the years by the arms vendors and their agents (“commissions” routed to secret offshore accounts, “green card” and equivalent, “scholarships” to prestigious universities and job placements for sons and daughters of secretaries to the central govt — which no one talks about because everybody’s hand, up and down the hierarchy, is in the cookie-jar).
And finally nobody seems to have noticed that the basic problem of combat squadron drawdown is not going to be addressed anytime soon by the Rafale. So, the question arises: Are Raha and his cohort serious about filling the immediate need or not? If they are, and Rafale is manifestly not the answer, why are they equally noisily avoiding indenting for more HAL Nasik-assembled Su-30MKIs, that will be available at a fraction of the cost of Rafale and in vastly big numbers? For everyone’s information, just the up-front $9billion cost of 36 Rafales will fetch India 130 of the fully armed Su-30s, with newly bought units inductable inside of two years. It highlights IAF’s insidious intent to acquire the Rafale at the cost of beggaring the country. This quite curious behaviour by those in high posts in the service is rightly a matter of public concern and may in time to come require investigation as it tilts against the national interest and toward the ultimately unclear and unexplainable weightage the IAF leadership has accorded a particular exorbitantly priced Western combat aircraft.