Rafale deal is expected to be a stepping stone for a vastly enhanced industrial and technological cooperation between Bharat and France
Ending long standing uncertainty and in a major boost to Bharat’s defence acquisition programme, Bharat and France on January 25 signed an inter-governmental agreement for the sale of 36 French origin Rafale fighter jets meant for the use of Indian Air Force (IAF). The final deal will be inked soon after sorting out “some financial aspects”. This agreement was among the slew of pacts signed between the two countries following wide ranging discussions between the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visiting French President Francois Hollande.
In a major master stroke, during his April 2015 to France, Modi took a decision to buy 36 Rafale under a government to government deal with a view to take care of the immediate “critical operational requirements” of IAF. Incidentally, in the context of the ongoing programme of phasing out of the older generation, Soviet era Mig-21 and Mig-27 fighters, IAF was faced with the prospect of squadron depletion with a serious implication for its combat fitness. In fact, Rafale had emerged a front runner in the Medium, Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contest described as the mother of all defence deals. Under MMRCA, it was planned to acquire 126 fighters of which 18 will be delivered in a flyaway condition while 108 was to be produced in Bharat by the state owned aeronautical major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under technology transfer. But the mind boggling cost of MMRCA led to the decision to buy 36 Rafale fighters to meet the immediate requirements of IAF with a plan to meet the needs of IAF with the home grown fourth generation supersonic Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. As such, this strategy could prove a win-win development for Bharat’s defence and aerospace production sector and boost the morale of Bharateeya defence forces with home grown fighting platforms. Along with Rafale, Tejas will constitute the formidable frontline fighting formation of IAF.
The 50 per cent offset clause in the Rafale deal, to which Dassault Aviation (and international French aircraft manufacturer) has agreed with a view to boost Make in India programme, would prove to be beneficial to the domestic defence and aerospace sector. For under offset, Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, would be required to invest 50 per cent of the total contract cost in the country by way of sourcing services and components s from the local industries and also through technology transfer and joint ventures.
Significantly, the Rafale contract would include the combat aircraft in fly away condition, weapons systems and a maintenance support package.
Once deployed, 36 Rafale combat jets will constitute the two squadrons of IAF’s fighting fleet. Rafale is a twin engine, multi role combat aircraft described as an air superiority fighter capable of providing aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. Air forces in France Egypt and Qatar are already using this fighter jet.
In a related development, the quest for Bharateeya defence self-reliance received a shot in the arm with Mahindra Defence, a part of the multibillion dollar Mahindra Group, signing a pact with Airbus Helicopters that took forward the Memorandum of Understanding signed in July last for the floating of a joint venture to manufacture combat helicopters in Bharat. As it is, the statement of intent was signed between these two companies on January 24 in the presence of Modi and Hollande. “Through this partnership we target building several of our globally leading helicopter models in India. This will lead to the transfer of state-of-the-art technologies, development of manufacturing activities and creation of high skilled jobs in India,” said Airbus Helicopters President and CEO Guillaume Faury.
With a view to give a fillip to Make in India in defence production many changes have been introduced in Defence Procurement Procedure and the highlights of the improvements include a new category to encourage domestic production including government funding for research and development and recognition of micro, small and medium enterprise in technology development for defence and aerospace sectors.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer isa freelancer who writes on Science, Tech & Defence related issues)