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The big questions about the Rafale deal you didn’t know whom to ask

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Former French president Francois Hollande has given a new twist to the row surrounding the Rafale deal. Here’s a primer.

What is the Rafale?

A twin-engine fighter jet that was selected by the Indian Air Force.

Why did the IAF select the Rafale?

The IAF is worried about the rapidly dwindling number of fighter squadrons in its fleet. It desperately wants to overcome the shortage because the MiG-21 fighters, which are the mainstay, are being phased out and the defence public sector firm Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is yet to develop the home-made Tejas Light Combat Aircraft to the IAF’s standards for fully operational fighters.

Who makes the Rafale?

French company Dassault Aviation makes the main platform. It integrates avionics, weapons and engines from a number of other, mostly French, companies such as Thales, Snecma, Safran and MBDA.

Has India done business with Dassault?

India has a history of dealing with Dassault Aviation. It made the strategic Mirage 2000 aircraft that are capable of delivering nuclear warheads. The IAF has two squadrons of the Mirage 2000 that Dassault and its fraternal French companies are now upgrading.

Also read: Ex-union ministers Yashwant Sinha & Arun Shourie demand CAG audit into Rafale deal

Is it the same as Rafael?

No, Rafale is a French product that should not be confused with the Israeli defence company, Rafael. In French, “Rafale” means a gust of wind.

Why does the IAF feel that the Rafale meets its requirements?

In 2012, after trials and evaluations in the country and overseas of six fighter jets, the IAF “down-selected” two aircraft — the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon — through a global competition. It had tendered to buy 126 planes of the medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) category. The Rafale was chosen — but not contracted — because the first 18 aircraft that it was to induct off-the-shelf quoted a lower price than the Eurofighter.

Is the Rafale expensive?

When the global tender for 126 MMRCA was floated, the defence ministry estimated that the purchase would cost Rs 42,000 crore. The estimated price of the 36 Rafales now is Euro 7.87 million or rougly Rs 59,000 crore.

Why two different figures — 126 and 36?

The IAF had originally projected an operational requirement of six squadrons (126 planes) to implement the government’s 2009 “operational directive” to be prepared for a two-front (China and Pakistan) war.

The decision to purchase 36 Rafales was taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Paris in April 2015. The contract was signed in September 2016.

There was no contract for the 126 Rafales in the original tender because talks were stuck on the final price.

Why did IAF opt for Rafale?

The IAF was looking for a multirole aircraft. The Rafale is described by Dassault as “omnirole”. It has to be capable of operating in different weather conditions and altitudes in India; it has to be capable of ground-attack as well as have air-to-air capability. Plus, it must have stand-off capability.

Also read: Modi should not allow Rafale jet deal to become another Bofors

Stand-off capability implies that the plane must to able to shoot air-to-air and air-ground from beyond visual range. The Rafale offers the Meteor air-to-air missile for the BVR air capability and the Scalp missile for the air-to-ground capability.

The Rafale can pull between 3.6g to 9g — 1 g is the force of gravity on the human body. Since a fighter pilot is trained to perform complex manoeuvres, the integrity of both the human body and the aircraft frame has to be ensured.

Will all 36 Rafales be made in France?

Yes, the current contract is for Dassault and partners to deliver the aircraft in ready-to-use configurations. But there is a provision for “offsets”.

What are ‘offsets’?

Offsets are a portion of the expemse incurred by customer that is ploughed back to help develop indigenous industry.

So is Reliance an offset partner?

Yes, but it is not the only one. Dassault has MoUs with nearly 70 companies. Reliance Defence already has a joint venture going with Dassault in Nagpur.

Why not HAL, which has experience?

It is really a business decision of Dassault who it will partner with. HAL was identified as the ‘lead integrator’ in the global tender of 2007 that is now cancelled. HAL does not produce aircraft from scratch. It has licensed production arrangements with several foreign manufacturers such as the Russian Aircraft Corporation.

Is HAL not capable of manufacturing the aircraft?

Depends on who you believe. Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said the firm did not have the required capability to produce Rafale, and blamed the Congress-led UPA for not equipping HAL with the requisite resources.

Has HAL weighed in on the Rafale deal?

Yes, former HAL chief T. Suvarna Raju, who retired this month, has said that the firm is capable of producing the jet, though probably not at the “desired cost per piece”.

What’s this uproar about a French ex-president’s remarks?

Former French president Francois Hollande, during whose termthe Rafale deal was signed, has said that the Indian government “proposed” the selection of Reliance Defence as the offset partner. This, the Indian opposition claims, proves its allegation of crony capitalism against the Modi government and foul play in the Rafale deal. Hollande’s claim was subsequently refuted by Dassault and the French government. Dassault said the decision to choose Reliance was its own.

What was the Indian government’s reaction?   

It has rejected the claim. Arun Jaitley, finance minister and former defence minister, said he suspected some “connection” between Hollande’s claim and a month-old tweet posted by Congress president Rahul Gandhi saying there would be “some big bunker buster bombs” on the Rafale deal soon.

What kind of contract does India have with France?

Essentially, it is a two-tier contract. First, there is a contract with Dassault and the Indian government. At the second level, there is an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) between the Indian and French governments that underwrites the contract with the company.

Has the govt dumped HAL in favour of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence?

The government officially says that Dassault’s joint venture with Reliance is yet to be formalised. The two entities have not yet shared business plans. That is the kind of requirement that any company would have to satisfy the government about before it embarks on its business.

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