Tuesday, 28 June, 2022
HomeOpinionIAF’s potential is fast depleting, 36 Rafale jets offer only partial solution

IAF’s potential is fast depleting, 36 Rafale jets offer only partial solution

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A predatory China and toxic Pakistan are waiting for India to stumble.

The Bofors mummified our defence acquisitions, Rafale could entomb it, wrote ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta. It is a profound statement. The Rafale deal debate is snowballing and now the Supreme Court and the CBI have been drawn into it.

After a 15-year search, we can count only two squadrons of fighter aircraft. Overall, fighter aircraft procurement is facing a big crisis. A blight seems to be enveloping us. However, the crisis also presents an opportunity to de-mummify defence acquisitions. The S-400 deal with Russia, despite huge US pressure, and the complete turnaround in procurement of 155mm artillery guns indicate so.

36 vs 126

The fallout of the decision to go in for 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition and scrapping the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) deal is bleak. Beyond a jump capability of two squadrons, there is an abyss. The RFI process for 110 aircraft has just commenced. This will take about 15 years to fructify. Is there scope for more Rafale jets in the present Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA)? Not clear. Can Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) step up with Tejas? Given its track record, it’s doubtful. If the vitiated political atmosphere continues, nothing can happen. The Indian Air Force (IAF) will continue undergoing an ageing implosion.

Lost opportunity

HAL has a poor production and maintenance track record. This was an opportunity to break HAL’s monopoly, reform it and create a strategic aerospace alternative. However, we might end up with Reliance ADAG. Dassault was free to choose its offset and maintenance partner. To think, it did due diligence and then chose Reliance ADAG! A rethink on Dassault itself is needed. Overall, we have lost an opportunity in creating a competitive and stable ‘Make in India’ aerospace environment.

Also read: Rafale, Bofors, AgustaWestland: Why is every Indian defence deal hit by scam allegations?

Procedures bypassed?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a good call on outright purchase of 36 jets. However, was due diligence done? Was it an informed decision? It appears that many knew about this development only through newspapers. The defence procurement procedure (DPP), which was re-written by the government as the panacea for all procurement ills with much fanfare, has been allegedly bypassed. It has, in fact, been used to rubber stamp the decision. A decision to procure 36 fly-away Rafale with a provision for more would have been better.

Offset & maintenance worries

First, Reliance can be an offset partner, among others, for Dassault. However, I suggest Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL) or Reliance should not be middlemen entities to further dispense offsets. That’s irregular. Second, the offset and maintenance contracts must succeed over time.

If Reliance packs up and Dassault says it cannot execute its obligations, we will be left with a cold potato. Does the IGA ensure that Dassault will execute offsets or maintenance obligations then? French statements and reports indicate preparation of an exit route from the IGA. Will DRAL survive? While Dassault is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), it could renege if Reliance collapses. The maintenance issues are critical and need sewing up since the aircraft will be with us for decades.

Also read: A quick guide for BJP on how NOT to defend the Rafale defence deal

Media play

India’s electronic media has disappointed. Discussions on TV on Rafale degenerate into a political ‘tu tu main main’ of who is fairest of them all. Accompanying ‘defence specialists’ and other lightweights contribute little. Debates end in limbo with ill-informed anchors hurriedly thanking all guests since time has run out. Print media has focused on current issues only – costs, legal and political. What about the issues beyond our noses? None. The media must feature debates to suggest the way ahead.

Historical judgement

In 1962, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru put troops in a forward posture without adequate thought, we were humiliated. It has left our national psyche scarred for more than half a century. If the IAF is left debilitated for the next 10-15 years, the outcomes are scary. We might bluster our way through now. However, my bet is that cold analysis and historical judgements will not spare anyone.

Also read: Is mandatory clause a smoking gun to make Rafale BJP’s Bofors or an opposition stretch?

Statesman’s approach

The situation can be fully turned around by a statesman who can rise above the current morass of confrontational politics and inane bureaucratic procedure. A sensible and holistic middle path must be adopted. More of the same reinforces failure and is not an option. Stop applying band-aids on gunshot wounds. The nation expects visionary leadership. If the statesman among our leaders is reading this, the following five-fold multi-pronged path is recommended:

  • IAF believes that the current deal is a fair one. Make it appropriately public. Adopt a consensual political approach.
  • The new RFI for 110 aircraft will get stuck in a quagmire. Revisit the MMRCA deal. Ask the L1 and L2 bidders for a new commercial quote for 110 aircraft to shorten the timelines.
  • Initiate reforms in HAL. Tejas production must be speeded up. This is mandatory.
  • Press the eject button on Reliance from Rafale. Help Dassault choose another reliable offset and maintenance partner. That entity can be a stable and competitive national aerospace alternative to HAL.
  • Reform the ministry of defence (MoD). Inject servicemen into the acquisition process. It cannot be a pure bureaucratic process. It needed a serviceman to conclude the Rafale contract negotiation committee (CNC). MMRCA failed due to standard bureaucratic procedure. The political hierarchy needs to realise this.

Proposed structure

We are in extraordinary times of fast-depleting IAF potential. It needs extraordinary solutions. Thirty-six Rafale jets are only part of the solution. Procurement of balance fighter aircraft must be approached in a manner similar to the resolution of IL&FS case. The IL&FS case threatened national economic interests. This is worse. It severely threatens long-term national security. A predatory China and toxic Pakistan are waiting for India to stumble. There is a need to constitute a specially empowered board headed by and composed of proven, apolitical and reputed professionals, mandated to execute the suggested five-fold path.

I have seen the mummification of the acquisition process since Bofors. I don’t want to see it entombed with Rafale. That will be sad.

The author is Professor, Aerospace Dept, IIT Madras.

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  1. Don’t know if war takes place, what will happen?. When we can built Chandrayan, what is Rafale aircrafts
    They r very basic. We have the advanced brains to make better than rafale aircrafts. Modiji should cancel the rafale deal & manufacture in India, save foreign exchange & have early delivery.

  2. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala(Punjab)

    Lt.General PR Shankar’s views on the topic in question are quite eye-opening, informative and convincing.

    The writer’s views are based on sound technical defence mechanism process and procedures, know how and knowledge.

    Ironically, those at the helm of affairs of nation should have set the record straight by sharing the process and procedures adopted during the altered and renegotiated deal ! Whatever powers that be mattering in this deal, why are those hesitating and shying away from sharing the procedural and process related truths !

    In a democracy, the citizens have the right to know, after all the deal pertains to the strengthening of the defence forces of the nation !
    The author in a very straight forward and frank manner asserts that procedures were bypassed while altering and renegotiating deal guided by subjective, not objective considerations !

    The present ruling leadership of the nation must lead the nation by setting inspiring and motivating examples and precedents before the natives and the entire world ! But it has been found badly wanting in it!
    When leadership is itself bent upon bypassing and throwing to the winds the norms and procedures with impunity, how the public can be expected to adhere to the rule of law, process and procedures ?

    The honorable apex court of the nation too has raised its pointed fingers stressing on the “process” factor of this deal alone !
    It remains to be seen how the government strives to wriggle out of the apex court’s soul-searching and sharp-pointed question of PROCESS !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala(Punjab)

  3. Dassault can choose his offset partner. he has choosen reliance and formed a JV company. all responsibility for offset ends with Dassault. whether reliance folds up or is in debt or doesnt understand defense has no meaning.

    How can one press the eject button on Reliance from the Joint venture – just because You say so ?

  4. The Rafale fiasco only highlights the urgent need for a professional approach to defence procurement. Leaving this vital aspect to bureaucrats is an invitation to disaster as their priorities lie in the financial domain both in respect of their personal greed and the stores being purchased. Their professional knowledge is questionable at best.

  5. Yes Professor only 36 jets will not do. Nobody has complained about the product as briefed by Shri Shekha ji, even not against the plough back a part of money under ‘Make in India’ project to service followed by Mft. in a later date. Only the associate partner is a failed corporate entity, he is known more as an half baked politician than a Business Leader. This has made even staunch supporter of BJP govt. bit cold. I think once the dust settles down things will start moving, hopefully. As the opposition does not have any substantial evidence to show the corruption has happened in this deal, except shouting down, even the SC has asked to submit the procedure in details laid out for such procurement. The SC had made very clear that it will not interested to go through the Tech. details & Price factor between the two Govt.

    Lets hope soon things will be clear. Tx.

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