Our capabilities gap in relation to a two-front preparation — taking both Pakistan and China into our security perception matrix — has stood exposed for some time in the matter of defending airspace. We are 150 to 160 aircraft short. The Modi government has done well to not allow price negotiations to linger and order 36 Rafale jets from France in a “flyaway” condition on the basis of a government-to-government agreement with Paris.
Evidently, negotiations and discussions on purchase-related matters for the remaining 90 or 100 planes will have to be resumed for the Rafale, or for its competitors, in due course. The off-the-shelf collection of the 36 Rafale fighters from France, now expected to be concluded in the next few weeks, as indicated by the government on Friday, is clearly a matter of meeting an expediency in the context of our immediate security requirements.
In 2012, the Manmohan Singh government had cleared the Rafale jets built by the French Dassault Aviation in preference to others like the Russian Sukhoi, the Eurofighter, and the American F-18s, with the US loudly complaining that the selection process appeared tilted against the American company.
Talks with Dassault were on to buy 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) when the Rafale had been selected. But close price negotiations with the company stalled the purchase from 2012 to 2015 until, on a visit to Paris last April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi politically persuaded French leader Francois Hollande to sell a specified number of Rafale jets to India under a governmental deal and on price parameters different from what was being negotiated with Dassault.
Even then the deal could not be clinched, although Mr Hollande, when he was the Republic Day guest this year, gave the impression that only small details remained to be sorted out. Clearly the pricing, and whether the price will cover a certain degree of avionics and in-built weaponry, remained a factor. That seems to have been resolved now, with the government indicating that the 36 planes will come at a cost of 7.8 billion euro, or about Rs 60,000 crore. The final word is not out, of course. But this is the nearest the government has come to signalling finality.
For the remaining 90 planes needed to meet the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons and cover the capabilities shortfall, the government must insist on technology transfer in the purchase contracts with the manufacturers, one or several. The aim must remain the gaining of technological self-reliance in matters of sophisticated defence hardware....