This article first appeared in Rashtriya Chatrashakti magazine
The recent escalation with Pakistan and the government’s bold decision to take the fight to the enemy territory has brought Indian’s national security and air power into sharp light. Speaking at a media event recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the air strike on Pakistan would have been even more deadly if India had Rafael fighter aircraft.
The Rafael fighters had been in news for months preceding this. Within a matter of two years, the BJP government had finalised the deal to procure the Rafael jets throwing into sharp contrast the dilly-dallying by the previous governments on the matter. With the general election in the offing, the Congress turned to the game of misdirection and raised questions on Rafael deal.
The deal reached by the BJP-led Central government ensures that the country will get weaponised fighter jets in fly-away condition. The deal includes latest weapons like the Meteor and Scalp missiles, besides a five-year support package. This is far ahead of the deal that the former Congress-led governments had been drafting and which entailed only the jets without any weaponry.
The need for these weapons was felt in the aftermath of the Kargil War. The BJP-led government then had given a nod for procurement of these aircraft. But the government did not return after the elections and what followed thereafter is a tale of criminal delay and vested interests undermining the security of the nation. The Congress-led government that stayed in power from 2004 to 2014 could not finalise the deal in 10 years. The Indian Air Force, during this period, continued to struggle with fatalities in the wake of old aircraft and frequent crashes. News of young pilots losing lives for nothing became common news. In 2007, the IAF framed its requirements and issued the tender but even then the government could not arrive at a deal with the French manufacturer Dassault Aviation.
This sequence of events begs the crucial question that why was the then government not able to reach a deal from 2007 to 2014? The deal now finalised is a government-to-government deal which does not involve any middlemen or agents, thus eliminating any scope of corruption or malpractices. However, with the Congress government constantly attempting to delay and thwart the deal, the security of the country has come under threat.
In the wake of the delays and misinformation created by the Congress, the Chief of Indian Air Force Marshal BS Dhanoa also asserted that the current deal is a good one. He clearly stated that there was "no overpricing" in the Rafale purchase as the government had "negotiated a very good" deal for the French fighter aircraft.
To put things in context of India’s defence security needs we also need to look at the capabilities of the Rafael aircraft. It is a double-engine medium multi-role combat aircraft. The manufacturing company claims that the aircraft can perform several actions at the same time, such as firing air-to-air missiles at a very low altitude, air-to-ground, and interceptions during the same sortie. It can also, reportedly, carry out a wide range of missions encompassing air defence or superiority, reconnaissance, close air support dynamic targeting, air-to-ground precision strike or interdiction, anti-ship attacks, nuclear deterrence, refueling, etc. Importantly, India has been able to negotiate the acquisition of latest weapons package for Rafael.
Along with the aircraft the deal provides for Scalp (a precision long range ground attack missile that has a range of 300 km, capped by the missile technology control regime) as well as Meteor (a beyond visual range air to air missile that can take out enemy aircraft at range of over 100 km). Besides this, the deal also caters to some specific needs of the Indian Air Force. These include, helmet mounted sights and targeting system, ability to taken off from high altitude airbases like Leh, a radar warning receiver, a towed decoy system to thwart incoming missile attacks and French industrial support for fighter for 50 years.
Since the turn of the century, Indian military planners have struggled with the challenge to replace the fleet of MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27 fighters that have been steadily retired from service. In the present state of Indian air fleet, the Air Force needs multi-role combat aircraft that could also be used as airborne strategic delivery systems, and Indian air defence experts have found Rafael to fit the bill. Experts say these planes will give India a modestly more effective strike force than the aging one it has now. India’s requirement is also acute in the context of growing air power with both China and Pakistan. The two neighbouring countries have consistently maintained far more well-equipped air defence fleets than that of India. Beijing is also reportedly selling Islamabad its sophisticated fighter aircraft, warships and ground systems, building up Pakistan as its tacit extension in South Asia. The capability gap between Indian and Chinese armed forces continues to grow in the wake of snail paced procurements by India.
Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold step to silence terrorism at its root, even Pakistan had been flying high on military and Air Force reinforcements and upgradations and claiming that it could look India in the eye. Infact, even during the recent skirmish with India, Pakistan reportedly used the advance F16 jets it had acquired from the United States of America. Though the fact that it was downed by India’s archaic MiG 23 piloted by the now legendary Squadron leader Abhinandan Varthaman, left even the defence experts baffled.
In conclusion we can say that Rafael deal is good deal which was delayed by the previous Congress government and the current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done a fair deal. In coming months we will see Rafael flying in Indian skyline.