(Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha with the Rafale)
Is the Rafale aircraft worth the financial and political cost?
One could get into speculative quibbles over the provisions in the ‘confidentiality agreement’. For instance, this deal is rumoured to allow India access to the French inertial confinement fusion (ICF) facility to refine its thermonuclear weapon designs. But why was this necessary when the use by Indian nuclear weaponeers of the Russian ICF unit in Troitsk could have continued? And, what’s the point of changing the ‘plumbing’ in this aircraft to make it nuclear weapons capable, when there are other warplanes (Su-30MKIs, upgraded Mirage 200s, and upgraded Jaguars) in the IAF inventory for this purpose? The larger question is: Was Rafale the best way to spend this scale of monies? Or, to put it another way, will India get Rs 354,672 crore worth of security from just 36 Rafale aircraft, considering this is too small a fleet to operationally count for much?
But just to give perspective on what money can buy and how this enormous amount that will go into sustaining Dassault and helping the French combat aircraft industry survive, could have been more productively deployed, consider this: The lease from Russia for 10 years for the second nuclear-powered hunter-killer (SSN) Akula-class submarine, under negotiation, may end up with an all-up price tag of Rs 14,000 crore. Is the Rafale over 10 years worth more for national security than an SSN? The lifetime Rafale costs would, moreover, have permitted the Indian Army to raise two additional offensive mountain corps to take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau, and left enough money to cover the costs of getting the Mk-2 variant of the Tejas airborne and the home grown Advanced Medium Combat aircraft programme into production, of modernising nuclear warheads and of accelerated production of intermediate range and intercontinental range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
Between a military enamoured of foreign armaments and habituated to spendthrift ways and an Indian Government minus the will to push indigenous and seemingly clueless about the methods of prioritisation of military procurement demands, public monies will continue to be wasted in a scattershot approach to funding defence programmes. Consequently India will remain a conventionally feeble and strategically vulnerable Power Lite, offering minuscule competition to China.
(Published in Open magazine, Feb 22, 2018, http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/defence/the-arms-procurement-syndrome