- Gaurav Saini 27-09-2016
Last week, India signed a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France for around $8.7bn,the country’s first major acquition of combat planes in two decades. It was a boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to rebuild an ageing fleet. The deal that had originally started during the UPA rule has taken quite some time to finalise. India’s relation with France has traditionally been good and friendly and this deal would upgrade the Mirage aircraft fleet and further add ice on cake on the bilateral relations of two countries.
It is expected that within six years India will have all 36 jets ready to fly Rafales with the first one ready to fly Rafale expected to arrive by 2019. Defence Ministers of both the countries – Manohar Parrikar and Jean – Yves Le Drian signed the deal in New Delhi, ending a long dispute of almost 18 months with manufacturer Dassault Aviation, after a selection process that took nearly a decade. The Rafale jet deal is an ambitious deal which comes in at the time when the security of the country is the utmost priority for the nation. During its tenure, the UPA government had initiated this deal but was the deal was stuck and did not work out. Defence Minister, Manohar Parriakar has not just signed the deal but has also driven a hard bargain with France which resulted in savings of around 750 million Euros from what France has quoted in January this year. The Modi government has also added a 5o percent offset clause, and the clause is expected to generate business worth at least 3 billion Euros for Indian companies, entailing hundreds of jobs.
The French fighter aircraft Rafale will give India “operational edge” over any adversary in air combat, said former Air Chief Marshal Fali Major. Along with this deal, the enhancement in Indian modern day to day missile will give India a dominant edge in aerial combat over Pakistan.
While Pakistan is armed with its fighter aircraft including the F-16, Rafale jet is better and more modern than F-16 in numerous ways. Rafale is 0.79 feet longer than the F-16, it has a 2.62 foot wider wingspan than the F-16. It is even 0.82 feet taller than the F-16. Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Meteor air to air missile with a range in excess of 150km is one of the key features that make the Rafale a strategic weapon. On the other hand US F-16 can fly only up to 2,280 nautical miles. The F-16 weighs 6,000 pounds less than the Rafale. Earlier in 2012, India had negotiated an order for 126 Rafales after the twin – engine fourth generation fighter beat rivals in a decade long selection process, but subsequent talks collapsed. But in April 2015, Narendra Modi intervened and got the agreement through on the smaller order of 36 Rafale and gave the Air Force a near term boost as he weighed options for a more fundamental overhaul. Modi has also vowed to modernize India’s armed forces with nearly Rs 9.97 lakh crore spending spree.
India says its locally made Tejas fighter, which took to the skies in July – 33 years after it was cleared for development – will form a major part of its future fleet, but defence minister Manohar Parrikar has also said the military will need 100 new light combat aircraft by 2020 to replace the aging and accident prone Russian MiG-21s. Defence analyst Nitin Gokhale said: “The Rafale is filling up one critical gap. It’s not the whole envelope. Once this is over, the government will get down to the business to assess the long term proposals.”As Western states trim defence budgets, foreign defence firms view India as one of the most lucrative markets. Being the world’s largest arms importer, India is also committed to build its local manufacturing base. The deal between the two countries needs to be designed to counter both China’s and Pakistan’s squadron. The deal has immense potential for a ‘Make In India’ push in the defense sector, if India plays its cards wisely..