FGFA On — simplifies Parrikar’s aircraft choices

The word is the Modi government has informed Moscow it will soon sign the detailed long pending co-development agreement for the Su-50 FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft). This simplifies the choices somewhat for defence minister Manohar Parrikar as regards the three large aircraft programmes on the IAF menu — other than FGFA, Rafale, and Tejas Mk-2. The Agusta-Westland corruption scandal has pretty much sunk the Rafale deal for fear that France’s cultivation of interested parties over the past decade could end up tarring the ruling BJP regime in some way considering a lot of the IAF brass and MOD officials spanning the NDA and UPA govts may be implicated in any future investigation and who, in turn, may drag the relatively clean reputation of Modi & Co., through the mud. Because there’s always someone compromised and dirty…in the decision loop.

With some $25 billion taken up by the FGFA project, and the politically safe decision to fund and propagate the indigenous Tejas, the prospects of the LCA Mk-2 have suddenly brightened. Even the usual naysayers among the Air HQrs brass are in a funk, seeing former CAS ACM SP Tyagi facing definite jail time — a matter of when, not if, and another Ex-AF chief ACK NAK Browne chewing his fingernails in Oslo, awaiting sessions with the CBI interrogators who are presently collecting information on the Pilatus 7C trainer acquisition, and Tyagi, and also Browne, whose names are also mentioned along with one service chief in particular around the turn of the Century — all of whom proved great lovers of the French Mirage 2000 and ready initial pushers of the Rafale, possibly for a consideration — which is what CBI are trying to find out. So preoccupied, there will be little squeaking by IAF over Tejas and FGFA choices — of that one can now be certain.

The skew factor is how much value prime minister Modi accords his impromptu commitment to President Francois Hollande to buy the French aircraft in fly-away condition. Such commitments are not significant except to an ingenue on the international stage, such as Modi, intent on making his mark. He’s perhaps not aware that as a buyer Delhi holds all the cards. France can be told — too bad but India cannot afford the Rafale at any price and Good Bye! That’s all there’s to it. Paris, as I have repeatedly mentioned, cannot act uppity or hurt because if it acts up it can end up losing access to the still lucrative Indian market altogether.

The air force’s immediate need to make up fighter squadron strength will be addressed by a solution Parrikar very early preferred — buy more than double the number of HAL, Nasik-assembled Su-30 MKIs upgraded with retrofitment of the Phazotron Zhuk AE AESA radar for the same amount of monies invested in Rafale. The investment and advancement of the Tejas Mk-2 in mission-mode will win the govt applause, which has been rare in its 2 years in office. Together with the upgraded MiG-29, Mirage 2000, and Jaguar fleets, IAF is — honestly speaking, not in all that bad a state

So Parrikar, will make pro forma noises about the Rafale deal under negotiation, but let this deal wither away on the PNC vine, notwithstanding desperate attempts by Paris to bag a contract by lowering the cost to 7.25 billion euros (from 8.2 billion euros) for 36 aircraft or around 9 billion USD or approximately $250 million per Rafale WITHOUT weapons! With the full complement of French-sourced A2A and A2G weapons, such as the MICA (advanced Sidewinder equivalent), the cost per aircraft will skyrocket to in excess of $300 million, which sum will buy India 2.5 AESA-equipped Su-30MKIs, each with full weapon load. No matter how you cut the deal, Rafale isn’t worth the oodles of money it will cost the Indian taxpayer.

But why did the Modi govt do a turnaround on the FGFA that IAF wanted to junk? This because, as stated in earlier posts, Modi government was warned about the outcomes of “buying West”. It weighed the danger of Russia simply terminating all engagement with this country in the military sphere coupled with a proportional link-up with Pakistan, and deeper weapons co-development with China that would place India in a deep hole. It would have instantly seeded dangers on numerous fronts. Firstly, the hardware void cannot be easily filled by Western sources because the bulk military armaments are ex-Russian. Secondly, the termination of technical assistance in advanced and sensitive projects would quite literally put all prestige Indian projects into a freeze, which cannot be thawed out by Western countries as few of them will willingly sell other than “cutting edge minus-minus”-quality weapons and weapons platforms, and none of them is prepared to cooperate in actual technology transfer of the substantive kind, leave alone co-design and co-develop with India sophisticated armaments for love or money.

India thus has no choice– an unenviable position India is in because for 60 years a succession of popularly elected governments in Delhi have talked big about meeting all military needs through indigenous sources but in reality invariably given into temptations of numbered accounts and payments in kind (green card, “scholarships” and jobs for progeny in foreign multinational companies, etc.) offered by foreign supplier countries, and remorselessly throttled promising military high-tech, high value, R&D DRDO projects in the cradle. The result is a hollow military and armed services that can at any time be stopped cold by any of a multitude of foreign suppliers turning off the spares spigot, and grounding the country’s fighting capabilities in a trice.

It is ultimately the political class that is to blame for this situation, because it cannot summon the vision or the will to decree NO MORE ARMS IMPORTS and stick by it, come what may, and it does not incentivize the domestic private sector to step in to produce all armaments, however they do it, at home. Military brass and IAS bureaucrats are ultimately only order-takers. They will swill at the foreign bad money trough when they see the politicians doing it.

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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14 Responses to FGFA On — simplifies Parrikar’s aircraft choices

  1. ashi sidhu says:

    finally FGFA please sign it. the only other aircraft available is f 35 which is in loads of problem
    parikar has done a lot to lower rafale price but it is still too costly more sukois are the best available alternative
    tejas mk2 must be pursued at all costs it is so cheap that IAF will always have space for it moreover navy’s attitude is much more freindly for mk2

  2. quickboy says:

    provided the Raffales will cost three times the SU-30s the common sense part means buy three times sukhois and increase the whole number of Tejas MK-1 itself and let MK2 to gradually get absorbed, It is however very bad to see the HAL engineers assembling parts of TEJAS, They should be designing and testing it and the production be made seperate into assembly lines designed to handle the TEJAS and using some far sight to assemble mk-2s and AMCA in future and the surplus money can then flow into a JV which Russians offered to co develop engines. It is a simple but bold decision. IN any case Russia is very near in case a war broke out. They dont desert their allies like the west. PUTIN got the trust of his allies in SYRIA. We need to see that as a strategic victory to Russia too.

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

    It FGFA comes in and Rafale goes out then the biggest windfall will be gained by later marks of Tejas. Chinese are already flying their J-10s with AL-31s. There is nothing that stops us from jamming a single FGFA engine or its Indian derivative, into the Mk-4 or Mk-5 of LCA. Such a development path will free up defence budget for a much much bigger bang then the Make-Rafale-In-India route.

    Howsoever hard we try it, a Make-In-India-Rafale cannot be made any cheaper than the French manufactured Rafale. While we are counting on our cheaper labour cost to do the trick for us, we have to revisit the numbers regarding actual labour intensiveness of these LRUs. France has the benefit of well depreciated plants, stable lines, longer experience of the right kind. If France cannot reduce the price any further then sure as hell HAL/Reliance cannot. In fact, Su-30MKI unit costing has not budged much between its Russian lines and Indian ones, an experience, which should be an input, while deciding on a Make-In-India-Rafale.

    Wish ADA/DRDO people turn the AMCA into a full fledged heavy fighter. These heavies are going to be very important in deterring aggression, something that cannot be ensured even with larger numbers of lighter/medium planes. Lighter planes can only bring to bear a very large force on a very small area with much higher certainty. But then an average sortie durations of 4.5 hours vs. sub-1 hour creates its own headaches. And Medium weights like Rafale with their 1.5 hours is a neither here nor there, in an Indian context. With the smaller and mediums the ratio of loiter-to-sortie duration is not lucrative enough to ensure aggressive patrolling.

    Heavy-Medium-Light is working more towards saddling us with high LCC western aircrafts. What we should be aiming for is to ensure it that FGFA is the last foreign aircraft in Indian inventory and experiences of FGFA are integrated well into later versions of LCAs and AMCAs.

    If wishes could come true so easily.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Re. “But why did the Modi govt do a turnaround on the FGFA that IAF wanted to junk? This because, as stated in earlier posts, Modi government was warned about the outcomes of “buying West”.”

      I would doubt if it ever came to that. IAF brass is as divided as the countries general polity. Only some made the noises about the FGFA ‘inadequacies’. In fact, I would not bear one doubt that if the Rafale Deal goes through the entire brass will immediately begin to sing praise for FGFA too. The myopia is by now a cultural issue.

      You have better access to those in the inside, but from the outside, to me, all it looks like is desire to deny LCA at all costs. Even now they are talking about SOP-18 Tejas basing on the technical skills of an organization that could not manage an IJT.

      In any case what would the IAF do without FGFA. Will they get the F-22 instead? Or will they try to supplant FGFA with F-35? One is a stealth hunter and another is a stealth dependent aircraft.

      But looks like a 9-30 billion USD Rafale plus 25 billion USD FGFA will surely kill off all chances of a 12 billion USD LCA line. Additionally, leaving nothing for other items either.

  4. +*^%# says:

    IAF needs to improve numbers in quality and quantity. There is also a need to increase number of stand off weapons. I hope all,the mess does not affect modernisation program’s.
    We are buying Submaries from the French, they are in the race for artillery . So the above post is very simplistic .

  5. Bharatji,
    FGFA deal is just a ploy to force French to reduce the price of 36 Rafales.Modi government may reject Rafale but India will not buy FGFA.

  6. sriramdatla says:

    Sir a recent report in dawn suggest that Pakistan is moving towards 2nd strike capability. Do you think the chinese are helping the Pak with a boomer. Lot of reports indicate an increased russian interaction with Pak. Do you think the interaction will lead to arms sale?

  7. Rahul(Kolkata) says:

    I am not understanding why “deliberately’ the likes of Mr.Karnad and others are vilifying Rafale when we all know is this so called astronomical 250 million USD cost is the ‘lifecycle’ cost of the aircraft plus 50% money been brought back to Indian economy by virtue of offsets and cost of training IAF personnel to fly Rafale and creation of 2 airbases to house the Rafale COMPARED to the ‘flyaway’ cost of 75 million USD for a Su 30 MKI…Mr Karnad and like. maybe you guys have the same understanding with the Russians which you accuse the IAF and MOD babus have with Western and particularly French suppliers…Otherwise I don’t know how people can compare apple and oranges and go on writing the same anti Rafale bullshit logic time and again….

    • ‘Am just as hard on Russia and Russian hardware. Any arms imports, from any source for any reason only postpones self-reliance has been my view going back to my writings for, what, 30 years now! If imports are needed, than the most economical is best. So, why Su-30 (retailed in this blog). And no the $250 million is not lifetme cost — but the price of aan ordnance loaded Rafale. If you are interested in these issues, you must become a little bit more knowledgeable and discriminating.

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

    End of 2013 the Brazillians for their 36 unit FX-2 requirement, had rejected Rafale and besides the tech transfer the major parameter of cost was as follows:
    ” The FAB estimated that it would cost $4,000 per flying hour rather than about $14,000 for the heavier Rafale. SAAB quoted $4.5 billion as the initial acquisition cost of the Gripens plus $1.5 billion for maintenance support over 30 years while the Rafale was $8.2 billion, plus $4 billion.”
    Refer : ‘http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/affordable-air-power/article5919437.ece

    That’s USD 344 million for 30 year expected life (I will pretend that that life-term is not laughable). But anybody who thinks USD 250 million in Mid 2016 for Rafale is LCC needs to be left alone. He is more than willing to forget the Mirage upgrade racket which cost more than the acquisition cost itself.

    Current ‘Best Price Offer’ of 7.25 Billion Euro or 8.20 Billion USD is for fly away unit procurement which normally includes some initial spares only (not the lifetime requirement worth). These initial spares, if memory serves me right from other acquisitions will run out before end of 3rd year in service. Weapons are off course extra and to be negotiated later (as if!!!). And all this has been sacrificed by the French only because someone from our side agreed to offer competitive mortgage terms 50% offsets instead of the rational figures of 30% which ties in with the long term expectations.

    Now imagine what exactly does Rafale bring to the attack that more than one LCAs cannot do exponentially better. The whole debate has been skewed by a vile bunch against LCA. Those interested in Indian capacity must remember what kind of people brought about these state of affairs.

  9. @Rahul — the source you rely on, no surprise, is French, and like all Western sites typically does not factor in the costs of the maintenance and servicing infrastructure, etc., even at the unit cost level, because for most Western AFs these are sunk costs, not de novo. For how the ultimate costs get rapidly enhanced, see the post preceding yours.

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