The India Today TV news channel just announced (April 15 evening) that the deal for 36 Rafale combat aircraft has been done. Perhaps, what is meant is that the contract worth 7.8 billion Euros has been finalized, and will await the signature of the two countries which is expected, the report said, in the next 3-6 weeks.
That the contract is ready is stale news. It has been signature-ready for some time now, especially because there were no great technical details involving technology transfer and attendant details about the mode of transfer, to which Indian party, and with what continuing/residual French supplier responsibility, to sort out. This is all a cash on the barrel head kind of transaction.
What is surprising is the Modi government, having made a perfectly horrible initial mistake with PM Modi deciding on his own to short circuit the entire MMRCA (medium-range, multi-role combat aircraft) procurement process, is insisting on compounding it by actually going through with it. This despite his regime being made aware of the aircraft in the Indian inventory turning into a liability: operationally for IAF in that because the first full squadron with its full complement of weapons won’t be flying before 2019 at the earliest (if the contract is signed by this year end), the Rafale acquisition will not immediately make up for depleted fighter strength. As has been argued by this analyst this requirement was only conjured up by IAF brass as a means of hurrying a strategic-cum-militarily myopic, if not entirely ignorant, Indian government into a Rafale contract. Should Rafale in fact be secured and IAF’s main demand thus met, Vayu Bhavan will happily turn around and acquiesce in Defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s favoured option of buying more Su-30MKIs, to quickly make up its g fighting strength. So much for a barefaced subterfuge. And, to think the enormous financial investment is for an aircraft that doesn’t have the range to fight other than Pakistan, and with a potentially high mortality rate with PAF likely deploying five or more of its cheapest JF-17 Thunderbirds for every Rafale IAF’s able to muster. What chances of Indian Rafale pilots surviving such ordeals — one against five fights? The IAF brass has made monkeys out of the Modi government alright.
The deal should it come to pass would mean its success was the result of two sets of egos being attached to it — IAF’s and, more crucially, the Prime Minister’s. Modi will thereby show he is entirely immune to good economic sense which as a Gujrati with good trading sense he’d have instinctively sensed, when his own ego is on the line. It is a pity that in “the world’s largest democracy” there’s no institutional check on the PM’s excesses — other than a No Confidence motion in Parliament — the nuclear option, and the person occupying that position at any given time can commit India to the most deleterious treaties, as Manmohan Singh did vis a vis the nuclear deal with the US, and not have to answer for it, or for that matter approve any transaction however financially onerous it may be for the country and, ultimately, for the Indian taxpayer forking out the funds, without Parliament having a say by way of right of ratification.
And the Rafale will be an enormous financial drain on the treasury for decades to come, and will put at risk other military capability build-up programmes. Where exactly will Finance minister Arun Jaitley find the funds, for instance, for the Rafale even as monies have been sequestered for all the deals President Vladimir Putin has cannily signed with India, tying up GOI to the purchase of a whole bunch of very expensive hardware in the years ahead — S-400 anti-aircraft system, the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, missile destroyers, and the leased Akula-IIs, the one in service with the Indian Navy, and the second SSN, Iribis, under fitment, and a host of classified projects underway with Russian technical assistance? If Jaitley previously said the formation of the single offensive mountain corps to field against Chinese PLA in the north and northeast was being stretched over a longer period of time because GOI simply lacked the Rs 64,000 crores needed for raising such an army formation in the normal timeframe of 8-10 years, then imagine the problems he’ll have in ponying up the 7.8 billion Euros or approx Rs 57,0000(on life-time basis), which works out to Rs 1,584 crores per Rafale.
The weapons load on the Rafale will be only exorbitantly priced French items, in light of Paris’s unwillingness to integrate any Indian-made missile including the deadly Brahmos cruise missile with the onboard fire control system. Some deal this!
If you factor in the likely depreciation of the Indian rupee versus the Euro over the next decade (of the fulfillment of the Rafale contract), the sum total for the 36 Rafales will rocket to in excess of Rs 70,000 crores, or nearly Rs 2,000 crore per Rafale inducted into IAF.
If there’s no technology transfer and no “Make in India” benefits, why is GOI being so generous? And what exactly has the MOD’s price negotiation committee been negotiating? May be the deal is being lubricated by Paris by dangling that old bait of providing Indian nuclear weaponeers access to its inertial confinement fusion (ICF) facility in Bordeaux. ICF assists in facilitating miniature thermonuclear explosions in order to help scientists design credible thermonuclear weapons for the Indian arsenal in lieu of explosive underground tests. If that’s the big hook on which the BJP govt is going to hang this Rafale deal they better make sure that sustained access is provided first before Delhi writes any check for the deal. And, in any case, that payments be contractually obliged to be made only after receipt after delivery of every plane along with first and second line spares and servicing support. Only Russia to-date has provided Indian weapons designers access to its ICF installation in Troitsk outside of Moscow. Is France being cultivated as an alternative ICF source with this Rafale deal?
But if the govt wants to avoid the situation of inevitably being shortchanged by the wily French, and to avoid the besmirching of his BJP regime in the manner Congress party regimes after the one headed by Rajiv Gandhi have been by the political taint of the Bofors gun deal, then there is still time for Prime Minister Modi to wake up, trash the Rafle deal, and tell Paris to take a hike, and that way regain a semblance of self-respect for himself and his government. There’s absolutely no compulsion to go ahead with the Rafale transaction. Until the deed is actually signed, India has all the latitude; once the contract is inked it will be India that will have to dance to the supplier firm, Dassault Avions’, and France’s music. Invoking sovereign guarantees, assuming the government of Francoise Hollande has relented enough to offer it, will require Paris to pay such guarantee heed. Having taken the money, where’s the incentive for France to to do so?
Be done with it, Shriman Pradhan Mantriji, drop the Rafale, for your personal reputation and the good of the country if that matters to you.