The Rafale advantage

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Almost a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India would purchase 36 ready-to-use Rafale fighter planes from France, India and France have inked an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) to formalise the announcement. This is the first fighter aircraft deal India has finalised since the 1990s, when the Russian Sukhois were purchased. While it paves the way to add teeth to the Indian Air Force, which is battling a shortage of fighter squadrons, the deal also strengthens bilateral cooperation between the two countries in defence matters straddling the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. India is already heavily invested with France in military equipment, including the Scorpene submarines which have come under a cloud after critical data was leaked to a foreign publication. While investigations are on regarding the breach, the incident is unlikely to impact India-France ties. The Indian Navy was quick to say that Project
75-I, of which the Scorpene class submarine is a part, will proceed once a strategic partnership model is put in place.
There had been two major concerns critics of the Rafale deal had flagged. The first related to the high cost, both hidden and open. And the second was about the very capability of the fighter jet manufactured by Dassault Aviation.
Tough bargaining over the last year from the Indian side and the French Government’s willingness to accommodate New Delhi’s viewpoint, have resulted in a saving of nearly 750 million euros for India, when compared to the arrangement that had been worked by the previous UPA regime. The aircraft deal is now worth 7.87 billion euros. Additionally, there is a 50 per cent offset clause that mandates the French company to invest half the contracted amount in India. This will create employment opportunities at home and add to skill development. There is also a penalty clause that India can invoke in case of Dassault’s failure to meet stipulated obligations. The cost would have been even lower than the roughly Rs 1,640 crore per aircraft, but for India’s insistence on tweaking the specifications to meet its needs – such as the ‘cold start’ system for the plane to operate efficiently at high altitude. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s earlier remark that he was a “tough negotiator” was not, after all, an empty boast.
As regards Rafale’s cutting-edge capabilities, there was never any doubt, though some experts, while making comparisons with similar Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), believed otherwise.
The Rafale is ahead of the F-16 planes being used in various parts of the world and is comparable to the American fifth-generation F-35. Besides, it’s way ahead of the Su-30 that India has as its answer to the F-16. It can perform air defence and ground attacks simultaneously, with a combat range of 780 km to 1,500 km; carry more than nine tones of weapons, including nuclear arsenal; and use its precision-guided missile systems to hit targets at a range of 300 km.
It may be a coincidence, but the agreement comes at a time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan and China’s insistence on backing this sponsor of terror.
It always helps to fortify one’s defence capabilities when one has a hostile neighbour on the one hand and a slippery one, on the other.

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