India looks set to buy those Rafales. But we can meet IAF’s demand for French combat aircraft cheaply


The much-talked about Rafale fighter aircraft deal brings out how absurd defence deals in India can be.

Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris that India would directly buy 36 Rafales. And recently an inter-government agreement (IGA) was signed on the deal without any consensus on the pricing.

The Union government scrapped the $20 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) project for 126 aircraft for Indian Air Forces’s (IAF) ‘critical operational necessity’ and the need to cut time and costs.

The IAF has insisted that it needs the Rafales to shore up its depleting fleet. It has projected a need for 45 fighter aircraft squadrons to be ready to fight a two-front war. That threat perception stems from a Defence Ministry directive.

But, given the paucity of funds, where will the money to buy 45 squadrons come from? This was not taken into account while drawing up plans.

The IAF needed a multi-role fighter soon soon after the Kargil War to replace its ageing MiG 21s and hold fort until the indigenously built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) could be inducted.

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The IAF was set to buy 126 Mirage 2000-5 jets. But instead of a follow-on order, the Centre floated a request for proposal (RPF) in 2005 and invited manufacturers from the United States, Europe, Sweden and Russia to participate.

Dassault withdrew the Mirage 2000 from the contest and fielded the newer, pricier Rafale instead.

The IAF changed it requirements from a single-engine aircraft to a twin-engine heavier one. As a result, a competition for a $8 billion interim solution morphed into $20-25 billion deal before it was scrapped.

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Price and upkeep

Media reports put Dassault’s opening commercial bid quote for 36 fighters at as high as $11 billion (Rs 80,000 crore), including the cost of an initial scale of weaponry and spare parts, as well as hangar facilities. But India is pushing for a price of $8 billion (60,000 crore).

Recently, Qatar had to pay $6.9 billion for 24 Rafales, roughly about $262 million per plane.


In 2014, the French Senate estimated that the Rafale programme would cost 46.4 billion euros for 286 aircraft.

The Rafale is exponentially expensive than aircraft with similar capabilities. Some estimates put it at five times the price of Sukhoi 30 MKIs and 10 times that of Tejas.

Buying Rafales at such exorbitant costs will clearly be a setback for Modi’s ‘Make in India’ pitch.

IAF already operates seven fighters – Sukhoi-30MKI, MiG-29, MiG-27, MiG-21, Mirage 2000, Jaguar and Tejas LCA. An eighth fighter will add strain on depots, maintenance and training infrastructure and spare-part stocks.

Why 36?

How the number 36 was reached before Modi’s Paris visit is anybody’s guess.

True, on a technology-intensive platform like the Rafale, capability can’t be measured in numbers, but 36 jets will not fufil IAF’s requirement. After setting aside some plans for maintenance and availability of parts, and training requirements, only a few aircraft will be available operationally.

The cancellation of the original tender for 126 Rafales and the never-ending price negotiations shows the unaffordable nature of modern weapons platforms in the numbers the IAF wants to acquire.

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But This time we had an option to meet IAF’s demand for French combat aircraft cheaply

An easy way out for our Defence Minister to escape the tight corner he is in and junk the Rafale but also meet IAF’s craving for foreign combat aircraft, especially French, fighter planes, is to acquire from a financially beleagured Greece its nearly three squadrons of Mirage 2000 aircraft IAF so dearly loves. The Hellenic AF operates 45 Mirage 2000s — 20 EGM/BGM variant and 25 “5 Mk-II” version.The difference between the Greek EGM/BGM and the 5-Mk II Mirage 2000 is only an external IFR. Greece is unlikely to be disarmed — it also has some 150-odd F-16 C/Ds. So Athens would happily part with its Mirages.

Further, Qatar is in the market to dispose of its 9 Mirage 2000s which too India can buy.

Together that’s 45 Mirage 2000s from Greece and 9 of the same from Qatar for a complement of 54 planes, doubling IAF’s Mirage 2000 fleet. India, moreover, will not have to invest in the servicing infrastructure which already exists, nor will monies have to be splurged either on training pilots or servicing technicians. It only needs an imaginative gambit by the Modi govt to approach Athens with a deal it cannot refuse, say, $100 million per Mirage 2000 in the Hellenic AF with all the stores, spares, and weapons holdings for this aircraft.

And Then we can upgrade our Mirage fleet to the Mirage 2000-5 standard.Besides, what’s the performance falloff between the Mirage 2000-5 and the Rafale? Minimal.

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This deal isn’t bad?