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Rafale: A national tragedy or just plain stupidity?

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In other countries, it would have been a badge of shame for the Government, Bureaucracy, Defense Industry and the citizenry as a whole. In India, it has become an ugly no-holds-barred slugfest like none other. Endless discussions, numerous debates and multitudes of expert opinions have pervaded the national discourse on just one topic these days. Apparently, the topic on which everyone in India and apparently a few abroad, have become an expert is Dassault Rafale. Every moment, new facts, truths, half-truths, and blunt lies are being tossed about in the Print, Television & Social Media and apparently, some so-called experts have started a smear campaign to malign the name of the Prime Minister, labeling him as a chor (thief) and much more. What is the whole issue about? Pick any hundred shouting at the very top of their voices and ask them about the issue. Not one would be able to go beyond the generality and much-used catchphrases like Scam, Ambani-Adani, Modi, France. Most, if not all, detractors of the defense deal have a half-baked understanding of the fighter aircraft in general and would be unable to differentiate between an interceptor and an air-superiority fighter in any literature. Conversely, the supporters of the deal, in their standard fashion, have built walls of ignorance so high that it puts even Mount Everest to shame. While most (though not all) of the questions of the detractors are logical and valid, tagging every detractor as an Urban Naxal while ignoring his line of questioning won’t work. It’s time for the supporters and detractors of the deal to gain a meaningful insight into the entire deal and then form an opinion on the issue.

The entire fiasco has its roots way back in 2001 when the Indian Air force had projected a requirement for 126 (seven squadrons of 18 aircrafts each) aircraft. The strength of the IAF was starting to fall. It has last acquired an aircraft (Mirage-2000) in the 1980s and the acquisition of the Sukhois (-30MKI) was starting to gain steam. The initial requirements were for a 20-ton class fighter aircraft with medium role capability which would fill the multi-role niche between the heavy-hitter Sukhoi Su-30MKI (an air superiority fighter) and the MiG-21/Tejas (a smaller multi-role interdictor). Apparently impressed by the Mirage 2000s bomb lugging capability at high altitudes during the Kargil War, the IAF was keen to acquire the Mirages and had quietly made up its mind to acquire the same until the French Aerospace industry and Rafale, in particular, threw a spanner in their works. However, the French aerospace industry was winding down Mirage 2000 production due to lack of orders and preparing for the manufacture of the Rafale aircraft. Apparently, the French Air Force needed it Rafales faster (point to be noted- the Rafale is the next iteration of the Mirage-2000 fighter and the current mainstay fighter of the French Air Force). The Mirage production line was shutting down and the French could only keep it open if India gave a firm order. But we are Indians, have we ever committed to anything without first bargaining and comparing the hell out of it?

Hence, Requests for Information (RFI) were issued in 2004. In the formative years of the tendering, aircraft in the running were: Mirage 2000-5 Mk.2 (Dassault, France), F-16C/D (Lockheed Martin, USA), MiG-29OVT (Mikoyan, Russia), and JAS 39 Gripen (Saab, Sweden). Preliminary estimates pegged the costs in the neighborhood of INR 55,000 crore (US$8.6 billion), making it India’s single largest defense deal. However, the 20-ton MTOW (maximum take-off weight) limit requirement was later removed and this limit was revised to 24-tons. Given the protracted nature of the tendering and the past governmental acquisition timelines, Dassault replaced the Mirage 2000-5 with the Rafale and the MiG Company placed MiG-35 in instead of the prototype MiG-29OVT. The Eurofighter consortium entered the Typhoon into the competition. Not wanting to be outdone, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet also joined the tendering. Given the vagueness of the clauses, all aircraft, single engine or double and both light and heavy became a part of the fray.

As per one defense analyst, this deal meant that The Indian Air force was comparing every four-wheel vehicle from a Maruti 800 and a tractor when it just needed a jeep.

The Indian government had initially planned to buy the first 18 aircraft directly from the manufacturer. The remaining fighters will be built under license with a transfer of technology (ToT) by HAL. After an intensive and detailed technical evaluation by the IAF, in 2011, the competition has reduced the bidders to two fighters — Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale. On 31 January 2012, it was announced that Dassault Rafale won the competition due to its lower life-cycle cost. The deal has been reported to cost US$28–30 billion in 2014. However, the French refused to provide any guarantees for the 108 aircraft that would be manufactured by HAL. The deal went back to the chopping block and the fleet strength of the IAF continued to deplete at alarming rates. A report commissioned under the erstwhile UPA slammed the HAL’s practices and there were some serious differences between HAL and Dassault on the various fronts.

In light of this, on April 10, 2015, Prime Minister Modi declared: ‘Keeping in mind the critical operational necessity of fighter aircraft in India, I have discussed with the president (of France) the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters in ‘fly-away condition’ at the earliest through an inter-governmental agreement.’ However, the Congress party alleges that the Modi government, in buying 36 Rafales for €7.8 billion ($9.2 billion or Rs 58,000 crore/Rs 50 billion), paid more than what Dassault had quoted in the MMRCA tender but a full breakdown of figures is essential as the total cost of a fighter contract includes — besides the cost of the aircraft — costs related to technology transfer, spare parts, weapons and missiles, added-on equipment and maintenance costs. Moreover, the same aircraft Rafale has also be bought by the Governments of Egypt and Qatar.

A closer look at the costs shows that the contracted price averages out to €91.7 million (Rs 686 crore/Rs 6.86 billion) per Rafale which includes the purchase of 28 single-seat fighters, for €91.07 million (Rs 681 crore/Rs 6.81 billion) each; and eight twin-seat fighters, each priced at €94 million (Rs 703 crore/Rs 7.03 billion). That puts the cost of each of the 36 fighters at €91.7 million (Rs 686 crore) — totaling up to €3.3 billion.

Besides this, the IAF will pay €1.7 billion for ‘India-specific enhancements’, €700 million for weaponry such as Meteor and SCALP missiles, €1.8 billion for spare parts and engines, and €350 million for ‘performance-based logistics’, to ensure that at least 75 percent of the Rafale fleet remains operationally available (our Sukhoi serviceability is an abysmal 50%). We are paying extra for the India specific enhancements that were earlier not the part of the generic aircraft selected via the MMRCA process. Also, while such a direct comparison is not right, prima facie the IAF is paying more or less the same as the EAF and the QAF. The Egyptian air force has paid €5.2 billion for 24 fighters and is reportedly considering buying 12 more, a ‘fully loaded cost’ of €217 million per Rafale. Similarly, the Qatar air force has paid out €6.3 billion for a similar number of aircraft, with a ‘fully loaded cost’ of €262 million per fighter.

The opposition Congress is arguing that by reducing the buy from 126 aircraft for which a sum of (520-700 crores per aircraft, varying in every speech) to just 36 aircraft (700-1600 crores), the present dispensation is causing a scam of epic propositions. There are also serious concerns about the offer being made to Reliance instead of HAL to partner with the deal. While concerns about the apparent lack of Reliance’s experience in making aircraft is genuine, this is no excuse to mock and needlessly criticize a perfectly valid deal. One Congress legislator had even claimed that he would make a better plane than Reliance and mockingly flew a paper plane in the august presence of elected public representatives. Wish making fighter jets was only that simple. However, they seem to forget that Reliance is not going to manufacture any aircraft. It is just a part of an Indian Consortium which will be benefitted by offsets as part of the deal. Why Reliance? Yes, this is a question that needs to be asked and should be answered. The choice was primarily dictated by Dassault’s need to gain a foothold in Indian Markets and tap the rich moolah in the pockets of Indian Industrialists. Given the tie-up between Tata ASL and Lockheed Martin & Pilatus, Honeywell and HAL, Adani and Elbit Systems of Israel and Mahindra taking a heavy plunge in the aviation industry with its acquisition of Gipps Aerospace, Dassault was wary of being caught napping and needed a partner that would be accommodative for them and assertive for others. Reliance Group fit the bill perfectly and while many have been accusing the govt. for crony capitalism, the Dassault-Reliance tie-up is one of survival.

Many have also lamented that private industries are being promoted at the cost of public institutions. Well, only HAL can be blamed for this mess. Not only has HAL chronically underperformed over the years and hamstrung the IAF’s expansion plans (read Sukhoi SU-30MKI) by its ineptitude, it is also overcharging the Indian Tax-payer for basic jets like the domestic Tejas. Recent estimates show that the much-hyped Tejas (named by our former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his regime) is still facing teething troubles even after 2 decades in testing & production and the costs have ballooned exponentially over the years. It is being reported that each Tejas will cost between 460-480 crores per platform which is significantly higher than other fighters for its niche (read JF-17, FC-1) and certainly not making sense in any way. It’s an irony that people accusing the present dispensation of allowing private players to siphon taxpayers’ money are either unaware or simply don’t care that the public sector undertaking is just as expensive (if not more) with the added downside of inefficiency and lethargy. It must also be pointed out that HAL Dhruvs (a light helicopter) manufactured by the PSU have had serious doubts raised about their capability and a South American nation has mothballed all its Dhruvs after a significant no. of them crashed within a short span of time. It is only logical that any foreign manufacturer would be hesitant to partner with HAL. If there is indeed something wrong in this deal, it is the sorry state of affairs at HAL and the government must take immediate steps to resolve it.

On an ending note, defense procurements in India and around the globe have always been shrouded in mist and with good reason. Given the stringent security clauses, unique modifications and country-specific costing, it is near impossible to compare figures across the board, unlike the Big Mac Index. While everyone has the right to an opinion, it should be exercised with caution and should never be misused. The fleet strength of the IAF is rapidly depleting and the Rafales are needed. The opposition is being hypocritical by painting its inability to close a deal in a decade (remember, Saint Antony of the “You can’t be accused of corruption if you do nothing” fame) as a done deal and conveniently forgetting the facts and reports, it had itself prepared. The Government, on the other hand, is doing a poor job by its high on rhetoric and low on facts media reporting. The deal is tough and not easily understandable for all because it is meant to be that way. Having a simple analogy to substitute for this deal is hilarious and plainly, uncalled for. Something must be left to the experts and not brought down to the floor. We are, after all, buying a Mach 2 capable fighter plane, not the bhaziya-tamatar of everyday use. While common sense should prevail on this issue of national importance and the cacophony should subside, it is highly unlikely in the coming days and the slugfest will continue. Meanwhile, the only casualty in this conflict will be the Indian Air Force and its brave pilots, who continue to fly old and unsafe planes for the foreseeable future to come.

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Defense

“Westlessness” of the West, and debates on China during Munich Security Conference

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image source: MSC/Kuhlmann

The Munich Security Conference, which traditionally brings together heads of state and government, foreign and defense ministers in February, is usually expected to bring some kind of intrigue. This time round, the role was claimed by the conference report, titled “Westlessness,” whose main message was the loss by Western countries of their global leadership and, as a consequence, the growth of nationalist sentiment in Western countries and the loss of their monopoly on resolving international conflicts.

Expectably enough, Russia and China were blamed for the world and the West itself becoming “less Western.” The organizers of the Munich Conference urged China to responsibly handle its role as the world’s new non-Western center of power, and expressed hope that China would over time “adopt liberal values and become a “responsible stakeholder” in a liberal world led by the West.”

A pretty unlikely scenario though. A separate chapter in the report’s “Actors” section is devoted to China. Describing China as the “Meddle Kingdom” (similar to the Middle Kingdom), the authors view the country’s growing economic might and political sway as a potential threat to the world order that exists today.

The authors are concerned about looming Chinese superiority in foundational emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and connectivity technology, as well as surveillance technology and “know-how” in the field of internet regulation. In the case of 5G, they write about an intense debate over how to balance close economic ties with China amid growing security concerns. And, in a truly Freudian slip, they write about “the growing concern that the future holds a technological segregation of the world into those countries operating on Western technologies and norms and those running on Chinese ones.”

The section of the report on China is chock-full of graphs, charts and diagrams reflecting European fears of Chinese technology and investments. However, when carefully examined, these charts show that despite strong opposition from Washington and Brussels, more than half of “respondents” perceive technologies and investments from China positively.

The participants in the Munich Conference also spent a lot of time trying to present the coronavirus epidemic as a “Chinese threat,” even though China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Munich that his country would soon be able to check the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking at the conference, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized: “We are prepared to join efforts on other pressing issues of the global agenda, including epidemiological threats. We are ready to work together on other pressing issues on the world agenda, including epidemiological threats. In this regard, I would like to note China’s open and responsible approach to international cooperation in combating the spread of the coronavirus.”

The Munich conference never found a cure to the problem of “Westlessness” though. Well, maybe they should look at themselves instead of faulting China, Russia and others? At least, Russian and Chinese representatives reaffirmed their readiness to engage in a constructive and inclusive dialogue.

From our partner International Affairs

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Defense

Does NATO respond positively to the Turkish supererogation?

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Turkey is once again turning to the West, while over the past two years, it had been distancing from the West and trying to collaborate with Russia due the success of the Astana peace process on the Syrian conflict.

Damascus’s strategic patience is over because Ankara has failed to fulfill its commitments regarding retaking the areas captured by terrorists backed by Turkey. The Syrian army’s widespread advances over the last two weeks in areas occupied by terrorist forces in the northwest have led to Ankara’s reaction and increased tensions between Syria and Turkey. Along with wresting control over the strategic Damascus-Aleppo highway, the Syrian army carried out successful operations in recapturing 1500 km2 of Syrian territory and about 100 towns and villages in west and south Aleppo, especially key towns of Khan Tuman and Saraqib. Following the Syrian army’s operations, the Turkish government has sent thousands of troops and military equipment to the outskirts of Idlib to prevent the continued advance of the Syrian forces.

Turkey’s moves were due to greenlight by the U.S., NATO, and the EU, which have so far not been in Ankara’s favor; rather they have resulted in massive casualties and the loss of six military bases in Syria’s territory.

Recently, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to support the Turkish military in order to halt the Syrian army’s offensive against Idlib, the stronghold of the latest Turkish-backed terrorist elements.

Obviously, the move by Turkey has broken the commitments to the Sochi agreement and the Astana process, with the aim of holding its place in NATO. This is a wish that seems unlikely to come true, given the chaotic situation of NATO and the West’s distrust of Turkey.

Accordingly, it is certain that Idlib and its outskirts will soon be completely liberated because of the high motivation and ability of the Syrian army. The liberation will definitely thwart all hostile policies that Turkey has adopted in Syria for many years and will bring heavy defeat for Ankara.

The developments in Syria in recent days shows that Turkey is no longer trustworthy as it has explicitly violated Syria’s sovereignty as an independent state. There have been some accords on Syria, such as the Sochi agreement, regarding the establishment of a safe zone in Idlib, while Turkey has not considered the slightest value for the agreements. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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Lithuania: To serve or not to serve in the army

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source: flickr.com

It is well known that in 2015 Lithuanian authorities reintroduced compulsory military service due to the potential threat caused by the Russian Federation.

It should be said, that young Lithuanians do not appreciate the idea and try to avoid the service in every possible way. They even are not afraid of penalties and imprisonment.

In order to force them to serve Lithuanian authorities are inventing new “tools” to make the process of avoidance the conscription harder.

From the beginning of 2015 all Lithuanian men aged 19-26 had to perform compulsory military service in the Lithuanian Armed Forces for a period of 9 months if fate decided.

The matter is the way of choosing the men who will serve is more than surprising. They say that 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. The lists of military conscripts then are published on the Internet. But “randomly” could also mean “nobody knows how they are selected.”

At the beginning of this year authorities lowered the age range at which men are called up for mandatory military service to 18-23 years and banned volunteer soldiers from holding seats in the parliament and municipal councils.

Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said that the aim of lowering the conscription age is to ensure that conscripts’ military service causes the minimum possible disruption to their civilian lives.

The matter is the way of choosing the men who will serve is more than surprising. They say that 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. The lists of military conscripts then are published on the Internet. But “randomly” could also mean “nobody knows how they are selected.”

In reality the Ministry of National Defence can’t meet its recruitment goals.

The system includes Lithuanians living abroad who are forced to leave their home and come back for the service. The government of Lithuania doesn’t care that men living overseas have their personal life, own career paths and financial responsibilities.

The military authorities are trying to take immigrants for service on purpose, not caring about their personal problems, including health issues and financial commitments.

They also discriminate homosexual men by giving them specific tests to find out how gay they are, including a talk with the psychiatrist. Because homosexuality is still a sickness in Lithuania, with existing laws against gay people.

A lot of Lithuania men who decided not to come back for the service, are often wanted by police, and in some circumstances might end up in prison for up to 3 years.

Thus, in December 2019, 24-year-old Marius H. from Kedainiai was prosecuted for not visiting the military registration and enlistment office, but did not change his position. He said later that he would not go to serve, it is not in his interests. He has a well-paid job in Belgium and is not going to change his way of life. So he paid penalty (800 euros) and left for Belgium. And he is not the only one in the country who has made such choice.

Evidently, it is impossible to solve the problem in that way, using methods of coercion and punishment. Unfortunately, reintroducing of compulsory military service was the decision of the authorities, finding the ways to avoid it is the choice of youth. If the government doesn’t respect the citizens, the citizens have a right not to obey their decisions.

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