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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 20, May 9, 2015

The Rafale Deal: Was there an Alternative?

Saturday 9 May 2015, by Barun Das Gupta



Two critical comments on the recently-concluded Indo-French deal on Rafale MMRCA have been carried by the Mainstream (April 18, 2015). One critic has said that the Rafale was designed in 1986 and given the fact that the induction of these aircraft in the IAF will take another ten years’ time, India will be acquiring 40-year old technology at a high price. There is nothing new and surprising about it. The West (the European countries and the United States) has never sold latest technology in any field to the Third World countries. They sell only such technology, and that, too, at a price, as have become obsolete in their own countries and been replaced by new and better technology. The latest technology they never share with the others. The French are no exception.

But that is not the main point. The main point is that it is an undeniable fact that the fleet strength of the IAF has been greatly depleted and it is causing acute concern in the defence forces. The urgent need is to ensure that the IAF quickly acquires its approved fleet strength of 40 squadrons. If Rafale is 40-year-old technology, what other aircraft should India have gone for? The critics are silent on this. They have not suggested any alternative aircraft.

It should be remembered that it took more than a decade to complete the process of testing and finally selecting the Rafale. Even after the selection a hassle over price cropped up. The Dassault was also not agreeing to let the HAL manufacture the Rafale in India in joint collaboration. They questioned the technical competence of the HAL to make Rafale in India. There were five other competitors in the field besides the Rafale. These were Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Russian MiG-35 and the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen. All these aircraft were tested and Rafale was finally selected. Meanwhile, the Russians have started work on a superior MMRCA, the Sukhoi Su-37. It is a single-seat, highly maneoeuvrable fighter jet. It reportedly has thrust-vectoring nozzles that make it a better aircraft for dogfighting. But it is still in the experimental stage.

India has to make a choice from those aircraft which are available in the market. That is how Rafale was ultimately selected. Now if Rafale is dumped, India has to go in for selecting some other aircraft and the whole process will begin all over again, taking many more years. Meanwhile the IAF fleet strength will touch the rock bottom — something that cannot be allowed to happen.

One critic has commented that a “horrible thought is being thrust into our minds that the IAF is having to fight a war shortly” and that “we are being led to believe that the IAF is preparing to fight a war in 2018 or sometime beyond”. Nobody, except perhaps astrologers, can predict when the IAF will be called upon to fight a war and against whom. But the paramount need is that the IAF must be ever ready to take on the enemy—whether it is tomorrow or 2018 or later. To be forearmed is to forestall an enemy attack. Only when the enemy knows that we have the capability not only to resist but to retaliate effectively will he think ten times before embarking on a military misadventure.

Barun Das Gupta
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