New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s decision to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France for 7.87 billion Euros was also influenced by the fact that it could be easily enabled to carry a nuclear payload, Rakesh Sood, a former Indian ambassador to France and strategic affairs expert, has said.
One key reason why India picked the Rafale over the Eurofighter Typhoon is because the French were accepting of the idea that the Rafale would become a part of the air segment of India’s nuclear triad, Sood told ThePrint.
“One reason for the political decision in favour of France’s Rafale was because the French had no problem with the Rafale being modified to carry a nuclear payload,” Sood said.
“On the other hand, Delhi was not so certain about the Eurofighter, as it would involve clearing it with multiple countries including Germany,” he said.
Sood was India’s envoy in Paris from 2011 to March 2013, and is now a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. It was in 2012 that Rafale emerged as the lowest bidder in the tender for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force.
Dassault Aviation, the company which manufactures Rafale, is a French defence giant.
Eurofighter is partially owned by Germany among other countries. Germany and Spain’s Airbus Defence and Space owns 46 per cent, Britain’s BAE Systems owns 33 per cent and Italy’s Leonardo owns 21 per cent.
Germany has strong non-proliferation credentials, and New Delhi didn’t want to take a chance with Berlin making uncomfortable noises on this count, Sood said.
At present, the IAF’s Jaguar, Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets form India’s air nuclear strike force. But the Jaguar and Mirage 2000 are ageing fleets, having been inducted as long back as 1981 and 1985, respectively.
In 2016, just before the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets was signed, an Indian defence official had told The Indian Express that the Rafale was chosen because of its ability to be “used as an airborne strategic delivery system”.
In other words, the Rafale would be the chosen fighter plane to deliver nuclear weapons. The French air force shifted from the Mirage to the Rafale for its nuclear strike role in 2016, The Indian Express report had said.
India is the only country in Asia, besides China, which has created a military force structure called a “nuclear triad”. This means that India has the capability to launch nuclear missiles from land, air and sea – the ‘Arihant’ nuclear-capable submarine completed the triad in November.
With India’s No-First-Use policy established since it went nuclear in 1998, a survivable nuclear triad was essential to be able to deliver an effective response in case of an attack.