The old French tactic

Defense News (US) recently carried a story that the French negotiators had upped their stance on the Rafale combat aircraft, now insisting that the $8.9 billion govt-to-govt contract be first signed for 36 planes before the supplier company, Dassault Avions, even considers signing a 50% offset deal, with 30% of the offsets allocated for “futuristic military aerospace programs” — whatever this phrase means, and 20% for producing Rafale components to satisfy its ‘Make in India’ obligation. The French firms Safran, Thales and MBDA along with Dassault are reportedly committing to transferring stealth tech, radar, thrust vectoring for missiles, and materials to DRDO units.

A few days earlier, an Indian pink paper carried another related story sourced from the French Embassy about Safran helping revive the waylaid Kaveri engine project, completing the 30% remaining work to bring it up to 90 kN power level at a cost to France of 1 billion euros and requiring no additional investment whatsoever by India.(Kaveri, incidentally, had reached the 81 KN mark in bench test with no help from anyone before the programme was stalled.) So a revived Kaveri engine is another inducement to GOI/MOD to hurry up and sign the Rafale deal that will easily cross the $30 billion for lifetime upkeep, retroactive AESA radar and ongoing weapons fitments.

If all this incentive-making sounds fishy, well, it is. Especially in the context of how the French made monkeys of India not too long ago. Recall that in the years preceding the announcement in 2014 of the Rafale winning the IAF’s MMRCA sweepstakes, the French company SNECMA was in talks with DRDO for assistance for the Kaveri project. The idea was to reconfigure the Kaveri around the SNECMA M-88-2 hot core. The French kept on stretching the negotiations months on end, year after year, according to those in the know, raising objections or some piffling issues to deliberately cause delays and prevent a successful closure. The French negotiating strategy is plain enough in retrospect. Because soon after Rafale’s selection, SNECMA called off the negotiations, begged off the deal! Now to get the Rafale over the finish line, they are falling back on the same old tactics — this time another French firm promising to get the Kaveri off and running just so long as Delhi signs on the dotted line! Obviously, the day the Rafale ag is initialed is when Safran will withdraw its offer. What’s the sacrifice of $1.4 billion — assuming a penalty is imposed should Safran fail to deliver as inevitably it will — if it fetches $30+ billion in return?

India’s traditional military suppliers have absolutely no interest in helping make India self-sufficient in critical aviation technologies, such as combat jet engines. That not doing so is a perpetually paying proposition became clear to them in the wake of the decision by the extremely shortsighted defence minister VK Krishna Menon in the Sixties who declined to pay the English firm, Bristol Siddeley, Rs 5 crores to make adjustments in its BOR 12 jet engine — which had just lost the NATO fighter engine race to an American company — to outfit the multi-role HF-24 Marut, which proposal included complete transfer of technology. Those were simpler times, and the full tech suite would have been transferred, setting India on the course of jet engine independence. It began the steep slide of the indigenous defence industry established with such imaginative verve by Nehru importing, not combat aircraft, but the premier fighter designer of that time, Dr Kurt Tank. It provided the IAF the justification for ditching not just the Marut as under-powered but its Mk-II designed by Tank-trained HAL designer Dr Raj Mahindra, and to start the shameful period lasting to this day of purchasing combat planes abroad. Tejas is still just a blip — which, even with its induction, could be sidelined as the Marut was, if IAF is offered half a chance to do so.

But the BOR 12 on Marut-episode also was the sudden dawning of wisdom among Western suppliers. It alerted them to the benefits of keeping India on the supplier string. After all, why sell India the capability to design and produce jet engines and, per chance, even eventually set it up as a competitor when, with a collaborationist IAF and Indian government in tow, they could sell an unending series of whole, inordinately expensive aircraft, continue making ooddles of money, and thanks to spendthrift nations such as India, keep themselves commercially in the clover for ever?

If we still haven’t learned from the French, whose perfidy is replicated by every other military hardware supplier in one guise or another, then it isn’t Paris’ fault, surely. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Keep getting fooled interminably, what’s left other than to hang a shingle out on the MOD gates in South Block: SUCKERS at work. Come LOOT!

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.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Military Acquisitions, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The old French tactic

  1. andy says:

    When President Obama was in India in jan 2015 at the Republic day parade there was a proposal to explore collaboration for ‘hot engine’ technology among other things,this year in April Secretary Ashton Carter had the following to say,

    “We have decided to take forward discussions under Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) more aggressively on key areas such as Jet Engine technology. We also agreed to expand DTTI by introducing new and more ambitious projects for mutual collaboration. Both of us noted the strong complementarities between DTTI and the Make in India initiative,” India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said in a joint statement along with his US counterpart, Ashton Carter who is on a three-day visit to India.

    Even 1 and a half years down the line the talk is still about moving forward ‘ more aggressively on key areas such as Jet engine technology’.What’s amply clear is there’s not going to be any quick forward movement as far as niche technologies like Jet engines are concerned.

    As for the French ,they seem to consider the Indian establishment to be a bunch of fools as evidenced by their latest shenanigans in their quest for early closure of the Rafale deal.Dangle the carrot of having the Kaveri engine off and running in 18months and the Indian fools will quickly sign on the dotted line for the 36 Ràfales.Can anything be more brazen than this?

    But as the old saying goes ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’.

  2. andy says:

    The French Rafale might be an exciting aircraft with a lot of bells and whistles but let’s face it, the plane is a budget buster.Upfront cost for the Rafale is about$250 million and for the India manufactured Su 30mki Flanker is $75 million.The Rafale deal will hollow out the Indian military as it will certainly divert funds needed in other critical areas such as artillery, submarines and radars.India should part ways with the Rafale with the following message: “It was nice meeting you. Have a nice life.”

    The Sukhoi-30 Flanker is simply the most formidable fighter out there. In every war game and mock combat exercise that it has come up against western aircraft, the Flanker has emerged victorious.
    eg cope India, Red flag and the IAF exercise against the RAF

    It is a measure of the potency of Flanker series aircraft that not even the super expensive stealth fighters are safe. In 2008, a US air warfare simulation at Hickham base in Hawaii, pitting F-35s versus the Su-35 (the latest version of the Flanker) resulted in a clear victory for the Russians.

    Unlike the comparatively slow (Mach 1.9 or 1.9 times the speed of sound) F-35, the Sukhoi’s blistering speed (Mach 2.35) allows it to impart a massive amount of launch energy to its air-to-air missiles, giving Sukhoi pilots a huge advantage in dogfights.

    However, the chief reason why the aircraft is so good even 30 years after its first flight is that the Sukhoi bureau’s designers did not just aim for mere advantage over the then latest American aircraft — they developed an aircraft that was several times more maneuverable. The Flanker was the first aircraft to boast supermaneuverability. The late Mikhail Simonov, Sukhoi’s chief designer, describes supermaneuverability as “a fighter’s capacity to turn toward its target from any position in space with at least twice the rate of turn that the enemy fighter is capable of”.

    The Rafale may be an ultra modern aircraft but it can’t outrun or outgun a Russian Flanker.That’s why Alexander Kadakin Russian ambassador to India said ” Sukhois would swat the Rafale like mosquitoes on a August night.”

    Anyway you look at it the Rafale seems like the Flanker’s doppelganger. Says Defence Industry Daily: “A combination of Thales/SAGEM’s OST Infrared Scan and Track optronics, and MBDA’s MICA IR medium-range missiles, allows the Rafale to supplement its radar-guided missiles with passively-targeted, no-warning attacks on enemy aircraft from beyond visual range. At present, this capability is only duplicated by Russian aircraft: Sukhoi’s Su-27/30 family, and advanced MiG-29s.”

    Acquiring the Rafale is almost like buying a scaled down Su-30 MKI. Why pay more for an aircraft that is less capable than what India currently operates? And if the IAF wants more medium fighters, then what’s wrong the highly capable MiG-29, which is even flown by some NATO countries or the even more capable MIG 35.

    If the IAF still wants to go ahead with the deal at the risk of busting the defence budget, then the only explanation is that big money has changed hands at the highest level.

  3. andy says:

    As per Ajai Shukla of business standard, if procurement cost of 36 Rafale is ₹ 59000 crores then cost of operating the same over its life cycle of 30 years would be anywhere between 6 to 10 times the initial cost or ₹354000 crores to ₹590000 crores.Cost per year of flying these white elephants would be from ₹11800 crores to ₹20000 crores.India would end up spending about ₹413000 crores to ₹649000 crores(initial cost plus life cycle cost) by not scrapping this insane deal.In dollar terms $9 billion upfront cost ,$ 54 billion to $ 90 billion life cycle cost(6 to 10 times upfront cost) & $ 63 billion to $ 99 billion as total cost of operating 36 Rafale over 30 years.I am not sure about the figures put out by him but if he’s correct then we are looking at an average tab of $ 81 billion.

  4. &^%$#@! says:

    Fine article! One might add that during the negotiations Snecma also stated that the technology for their ECO core would not be transferred to India for 15 years after the award of the contract. Given the US conduct where for example in the offsets matter for the C-17 a/c a 3 decade old dilapidated tri-sonic wind tunnel was palmed off to the Indians as a new facility, and seminars and trips to the US were also passed off as offsets, India should not expect anything better from any other country. The Indians need to get their act together and infuse large amounts of funds into the jet engine program, with whatever help is there on offer from Russia. If such an arrangement successfully led to a working SSBN and some of its critical accompaniments, this might well be worth a try (and only hope).

  5. SANKET says:

    Great article. Mr Karnad, according to you which aircraft should India have opted for in the MMRCA deal and why?

    • As argued extensively in my writings from the time the MMRCA competition was announced — this is a redundant, concocted, requirement. Entirely unnecessary to IAF’s needs. But if one had to choose among the planes on offer, Su-35 wins hands down, if the extraneous condition of diversifying combat aircraft supply hadn’t interposed. Google to peruse the comparative performance parameters of Su-35, Rafale, F-16IN, F-18, Typhoon, & Gripen.

  6. andy says:

    The biggest argument used by the pro Rafale crowd is that only 60% of the Indian Sukhois are available due to some unresolved issues in AL 31 fp engines etc and also poor supply of spares from Russia, while 90% of the Rafale fleet of 36 jets would be available at any given time.

    Cost of 36 Rafale would be approximately $9 billion ,for this amount IAF could buy 120 SU 30 MKI ( at $75 million a piece )or 90 Super Sukhois with the advanced Zhuk ÀE AESA radar at approximately $100 million apiece(42 super Sukhois are already on order by the Strategic Forces Command)

    If 90% of the 36 Rafale are available at any given time and it’s a big IF given that it would be a new aircraft for the IAF and it remains to be seen how the Base Repair Depots cope with it ,then 32 to 33 jets would be available.Compare this with the 120 plain SU 30 and 90 Super Sukhois that could be purchased at the same cost.Even if only 60% of them are available at any given time, then the IAF would have 72 plain SU 30 and 54 Super Sukhois always ready to fly.Given that the Rafale çannot outgun or even outrun the SU30 in a one on one contest,the ratio is massively tilted in favor of the Sukhois. 33 Rafale vs 72 SU 30 or 54 Super Sukhois.So what is the argument all about?.

    With RM Parrikar taking a proactive approach to resolving the spares availability issue of the Flanker fleet it’s just a matter of time that at least 75% of the same would be available, making the calculations even more skewed in their favor as compared to the Rafale.

    Actually I have started taking bets at 1000 to 1 odds that 72 SU 30 or 54 Super Sukhois can ‘swat 33 Rafale like’ mosquitoes on a august night’ or ‘club them like baby seals’.Anyone want to wager?

  7. &^%$#@! says:

    I believe that the AAD ABM missile has a thrust vectoring capability. For that matter, I believe that even the old liquid fueled Prithvi has thrust vector control as do the Agni’s. Thrust vectoring on missiles is not great secret for the Indians. Applying thrust vectoring to other types of missiles is certainly possible for the Indians without any extraneous assistance, though it might in some cases take some effort which is worthwhile. Thus, I wonder what great revelations the French have for the Indians in this regard.

  8. Atul says:

    It seems that even MP knows the facts of this deal. Whatever is happening since last few months, can be called, in milder language, stalling the deal and not reaching anywhere. French in January said – Maximum four months to conclude the deal, its now six months and counting. Will it happen??? Difficult to say.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Atul: There’s no problem in stalling or cancelling the Rafale deal. I’m all for it. The problem that I see is to quickly and decisively make a safe and credible choice of a/c to make up for the rapidly depleting squadron strength. I gather that the F-16IN and F-18 are being pushed hard. These are neither credible nor safe. For starters, both flunked out of the MMRCA sweepstakes.

      Next, buying a US a/c implies a kind of co-ownership or lease of sorts. Would the US provide sovereign guarantees of not hindering or interfering with the operations of these a/c regardless of the political scenario – say if India were to conduct a much needed series of re-tests to rectify the failed TN test in 1998, or some US Congressman suddenly “discovered” human rights violations in India? I think not. Thus, the only feasible option on the horizon is the Su-30 MKI and Super 30 (for which the infrastructure already exists) and/or the Su-35 (which has commonality with the Su-30). The MiG 29/35 option is also available, but I would give more weightage to the Sukhoi’s.

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

    By those who prefer western equipment, the tirade against Su-30MKI has also been about the LCC. And like availability that too is false.

    Somebody just saw the CPFH figures in some random Aero India 2014 presentation and mistook it for Operating Costs. CPFH obviously are meant for Air Force managers but for the country as a whole the total cost of ownership matters. In that respect the Operating Costs along with Acquisition Costs give a better idea. In the later parameter the Su-30MKI scores way ahead of the western aircrafts. Off course the IAF should manage the CPFH but that is not the only headache for India. Western aircrafts are exceedingly good at simply pushing back the problem at the OEM, which is operationally good but overall it simply bottles up the capacities if not properly managed. Westerners can afford those methods of operations but can we?

    Availability is false because the people who had the responsibility to decide about the spares supplies agreements were sleeping on duty. Even while they were more then willing to equip the Gwalior AFB with facilities to cater to 50% more Mirages then we actually had. It is the same old story that was present in the times of Mig-29.

  10. Rahul(Kolkata) says:

    All these articles in favour or Sukhois and Tejas by lambasting Rafale has turned out to be a dud Mr. Karnad….GOI has selected ‘F-16 Block 70/72’ as the ‘Make in India’ fighter…Hindu is confirming the same. The deal was “finalized” when Lockheed CEO came to New Delhi last week and met Mr Jaitley…

    • &^%$#@! says:

      This is a very serious matter if officially confirmed. I won’t say it was unexpected, but let’s wait and watch.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      Frankly, when a (hypothetical) country has a Mir Jafar as an all powerful PM anything is possible.

      • Rahul(Kolkata) says:

        And when we have “special characters” as IAF’s advisory, then we can expect such comments….

        The point is IAF wanted a western fighter from day 1. So Mig 35 out of picture. India did not want itself to jump to Uncle Sam’s lap, so F-16 and F-18 got rejected. Yes they were also inferior in performance to the winners. Gripen turned out to be light fighter and IAF wanted a medium fighter. So good bye Gripen. So, Rafale and Typhoon won and final winner was Rafale. Now this whole cost issue and GOI understood we can’t have Rafale and Typhoon. So what are the alternatives? Jump back to Russia’s arm and get a fighter(Mig 35) which will have very low availaibility rate like its bigger brother or jump to Gripen, which will not do waht IAF had wanted and will also eat into Tejas market share. Or bring back the F-16 and F-18 which though turned out to be inferior, are actually “medium weight” fighters which IAF originally wanted. As relations with USA is on the upswing and as relaization doomed in that it would be unfair to judge USA by the actions of 1971, it was thought to be the best step to bring back F-16 and F-18. Moreover, F-16 in IAF blasts out the F-16 of PAF “mental” supremacy.And IAF was seriously not happy with F-18. So as you can see, it does not require a Mir Jafar to decide what has been decided…

    • andy says:

      If the pro Rafale and pro F16 crowd is exulting then I feel sorry for them,at best ( if officially confirmed) this would be a Pyrrhic victory, the consequences of which shall be borne by the Indian tax payers in the years to come.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        You can add the F-18 to the list.

      • Rahul(Kolkata) says:

        A bird in hand is better than 2 in bush….You win wars by using whatever you have, not with what is resting on the ground, waiting for a long time to be serviced, leading to poor operational rate…I mean the Russian fighters compared to F-16/Rafale….

      • andy says:

        This pàrticular argument has already been eroded by some facts in my comments above,basically this line of argument is wrong to say the least.

    • Avarachan says:

      This is the article from “The Hindu Business Line”:

      I’ll wait for official confirmation from the Indian government.

  11. andy says:
    This should be an interesting read for the pro F16 people, note what the author says in the concluding paragraph.

    • andy says:

      Especially when it’s written in an American bi monthly foreign policy magazine published by the Center for National Interest. Also read all the related links in the article to realise what the Americans themselves think about Russian fighter jets.Maybe it will have a sobering effect on the pro American \French jet fighters lobby.

  12. Venkat says:

    The delay in the French fighter is huge. There must be something in there non one wants to touch. I think this 60% availability more about spares planning! something HAL needs to contribute to.
    In the days of cruise missiles, Brahmos & Armed UAV ranges upto 300 km are effectively covered .
    I think we need to lay a lot lot lot more attention to the basic war machines : the assault rifle & artillery . Something we are not able to decide for (again) two decades .

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