plays fighter catch-up By
NEW DELHI - After
over a decade of waiting, India has decided in the
"mother" of defense deals, with France's Dassault
Rafale fighter jets winning the multi-billion
contract for 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat
The value of the contract could
be anywhere between US$12 billion and $16 billion,
though some estimates have pegged it at
much larger $20 billion. It is
clear that this is one of the world's largest
military aviation deals.
deal, French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed the
deal "a vote of confidence in the entire French
Indian defense deals are
notorious for delays, corruption, indecision and
red tape. However, a near emergency situation due
to the country's depleted and outdated airstrike
capabilities and potential security threats from
neighbors had forced New Delhi to act on the
The contract is the first foreign
deal for Dassault's Rafale fighter jets and is a
major fillip to the French arms industry. India's
decision could win Dassault more contracts, with
the United Arab Emirates a potential customer. An
offset component in the deal ensures that part of
the money will be re-invested in India's defense
In its latter stages,
competition for the fighter contract had become a
race between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the
Rafale, with the latter winning after an exacting
technical and commercial negotiation process.
Recent successes in operations in Libya and
Afghanistan also played a part in tilting the deal
to the French jet.
It was also not lost on
anybody that the Congress-led New Delhi
government, facing major allegations of
corruption, has settled for the cheapest aircraft.
It's estimated that the Typhoon would have cost
some $5 billion more.
aircraft will now be delivered to India over the
next three years, while the remaining 108 will be
indigenously built by state-owned Hindustan
Aeronautics Ltd via technology transfer.
After a bruising contest that also saw
heavy doses of diplomatic pressure, Russia's
MiG-35, Sweden's Saab Gripen, the American Boeing
F/A-18 and the Lockheed Martin F-16 were rejected
on "technical and operational" grounds.
There were several reports than an unhappy
Washington was pushing New Delhi to re-consider
the US aircraft. The final choice was, however,
widely anticipated this month as funds were
allotted in the annual budget (year ending March
2012) for the contract.
India has been
looking to build a fighter jet fleet that will
replace its crash-prone Russian MiG-21
interceptors and fill a gap between the long-range
Russian Sukhoi-30s and lightweight indigenous
Tejas LCA fighters.
While the Sukhois are
a strategic guard against China, the Rafales are
more aimed at Pakistan. The Rafale contract forms
part of India's estimated $100 billion
import-driven defense modernization exercise
spread over a decade that comprises submarines,
tanks, missiles, aircraft carriers, advanced
radars, artillery guns and more.
to the Swedish think-tank the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute, India was
the world's biggest importer of arms between 2006
and 2010, accounting for 9% the global arms trade
in the period.
Pakistan and China, two
countries with which India has fought wars, are
just as focused on military modernization.
Pakistan continues to receive military aid from
the United States as a partner in the global "war
against terror", though India has for long held
that such stockpiling of weapons only adds to
instability in the region.
New Delhi feels
that US-supplied armaments to Pakistan are more
potent against a conventional enemy rather than
against the amorphous terror networks that also
spread over Afghanistan and need effective
intelligence and pin-pointed operations, such as
the one that killed Osama Bin Laden, to
meanwhile, continues to be supported by Beijing
through ballistic missiles that could destroy
China's military prowess is
far ahead of India's. The country has managed to
copy Western arms prototypes to build-up an
effective domestic armament manufacturing
capability that has reduced its dependence on arms
imports. Given the closed nature of China's
polity, nobody is quite sure about the level of
investment and technical development in China's
Given such a scenario,
India has no choice but to try and build an
effective deterrent against China while matching
the military capabilities of Pakistan, against
whom the security threats are more immediate.
India is also making a conscious effort to
move away from dependence on imports from Russia
to countries such as Israel and the US, apart from
deepening ties with traditional partners such as
France, Sweden and Britain.
defense industry is seen as increasingly outdated
in the absence of effective state support.
Existing Russian defense platforms in India's
possession are depleted due to lack of spare parts
and post-sale maintenance. Despite the French
fighter deal, India has already signed
multi-billion dollar defense contracts with the US
for transport and reconnaissance aircraft.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New
Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at
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