Quite unexpectedly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while on a tour of France in April 2015, announced that India had decided to negotiate the purchase of 36 “ready-to-fly” French-made Rafale fighter jets in a government-to-government contract to meet emergent requirements of the Indian Air Force (IAF). It was claimed that the terms of the deal would be better, deliveries would be faster, maintenance responsibility of France would be longer and the configurations would be as had been earlier approved by the IAF. Detailed terms and conditions were to be mutually discussed and finalised between the officials of the two countries.
Urgency And The Impasse
Ideally, the IAF should have a fighter strength of 45 squadrons; with the minimum inescapable requirement being 39.5 squadrons. With dwindling assets (all MiG-21s and MiG-27s are due for phasing out), the IAF projected a requirement for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) in 2001. Consequent to the issuance of a request for proposals (RFP) in August 2007, six manufacturers submitted their proposals. While 18 aircraft were to be purchased in fully-built-up condition, the balance quantity was to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under transfer of technology. After extensive trials, two platforms (Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon) were found technically acceptable. Finally, Rafale emerged the winner due to its lower life-cycle cost. The announcement was made on 31 January 2012 and contract negotiations commenced.
Allegation 1: The deal for MMRCA was prematurely closed by the Modi government
By 2014, it had become evident that the deal was beyond redemption. Without total technology transfer and Dassault’s guarantee for the aircraft built in India, the deal had become meaningless and hollow as these two aspects were the keystones of the proposal. With no solution in sight, the then defence minister A K Antony rightly considered it prudent to let the deal stay in deep freeze. By the time the Modi government came to power, both sides appeared reconciled to the impasse. The deal was dead to all intents and purposes, except for an official announcement to that effect.
Allegation 2: The new deal is far more expensive compared with the previous bid
It is quite ridiculous to compare the two deals. Further, it is an accepted fact that major defence deals are an instrument of a nation’s foreign policy goals. They do not take place in isolation and are not negotiated purely in terms of commercial activities.
Therefore, the Rafale deal should not be viewed as a standalone agreement. In addition to this Rafale deal, a total of 17 pacts were signed between India and France during Modi’s visit. They included agreements on the stalled nuclear project in Jaitapur in Maharashtra and French investment of 2 billion euros in India. One is not aware as to what other assurances the French government has given India. Needless to say, a great deal of quid pro quo is inherent in such packages; it is always a win-win situation for both sides. The operational capability of a strategic platform depends on its configuration and it has to be a closely guarded secret. No country reveals such details. It is strange that some experts want the government to release an item-wise comparative cost table. Demand for transparency cannot be carried to such ridiculous limits.
Allegation 3: Modi violated the laid-down procedure
Every Indian government has been resorting to an inter-government agreement (IGA) with foreign countries. No questions have ever been raised. Even the first version of the defence procurement procedure (DPP) of 2002 extols the benefits of IGA and reads: “In cases of large value acquisition and especially those requiring product support over a long period of time, it may be advisable to enter into a separate IGA… Such an IGA is expected to safeguard the interests of the Government of India and should also provide for assistance of the foreign government in case the contract runs into an unforeseen problem.
Allegation 4: HAL was unfairly kept out of the contract to help a private firm
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