By C. Uday Bhaskar*
The Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) signed between India and France on Friday (September 23, 2016) for the induction of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft is a long-awaited and important decision. For a variety of reasons.
First, this is an expensive agreement and will cost the exchequer 7.8 billion euro (INR 59,000 crores) per aircraft, the fiscal breakdown is about Rs. 1640 crores. Experts and critics have pointed out that this is almost twice the cost of a comparable Sukhoi fighter manufactured by Russia and which the Indian Air Force (IAF) already operates.
The operational imperative is a major factor. The IAF needs an inventory of 42 squadrons and ,over the last two decades, this has shrunk to 33 fighter squadrons. Lack of steady modernization and induction have led to cascading obsolescence – and related cannibalization to keep existing platforms reasonably operational. Hence this induction of 36 aircraft – though modest – will help plug the operational gap. But again, the first Rafale will arrive only after three years – that is in late 2019, after the term of the current Modi government is completed.
This agreement also has provision for a detailed offset arrangement, wherein France/Dassault are committed to plough back up to 50 percent of the total fiscal package into India by way of ‘Make in India.’
If realized in an earnest and timely manner, this will give a major fillip to India’s military hi-tech manufacturing base. The Rafale will also be a test-case for the viability and effectiveness of the much revised offset policy unveiled by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
One last point. The Rafale was one of two options arrived at by the IAF. The other aircraft that was short-listed was the Euro-fighter. Bringing the Sukhoi into the calculus at this stage is not a valid proposition. The IAF is the user and the existing higher-defence lattice, the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security ), has accepted this recommendation and finally opted for the Rafale.
France is also supplying the Scorpene submarine to India. The contour of a robust India-France military inventory partnership is discernible. Both nations must explore the long-term strategic opportunities that the current relationship presents in the years ahead.
How about pairing wine and samosas?
*C Uday Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]