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India’s MMRCA deal unravels

The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal [MRCA], worth at least 18 billion dollars is turning into a controversy. The whispers of unhappiness that were audible for the past month about the government’s decision to award the contract to the French firm Dassault for its bid for Rafale aircraft, are distinctly getting louder. A first-rate controversy threatens to cast a shadow on this ‘mother of all arms deals’ and may refuse to go away till the 2014 general election. 
Defence Minister A.K.Antony promptly ordered an enquiry on the basis of a formal letter from a Telugu Desam MP, M.V. Mysoora Reddy who has alleged irregularities — “manipulation of the evaluation process” —  by the Defence Ministry in selecting the Rafale bid. 
Reddy claimed his “patriotic responsibility” prompted him to make the allegation against the MOD. Indeed, he pointed out something that intrigued a lot of experts (Indians and non-Indians), namely, that no country has ever purchased Rafale and that the aircraft probably performed badly in the Libyan war last year.
However, this matter is going to go beyond something between Reddy and Antony. No sooner than the government’s preference for Rafale became apparent in February, London made it clear that it would get the GOI decision reviewed. Britain, of course, is pushing for the bid by Dassault’s competitor, Cassidian, which is offering the Eurofighter Typhoon. 
The British Defence minister for International Security Strategy Gerald Howarth was quoted by Jane’s on February 10: “If the [Indian] decision turned only on price, Cassidian will put in a revised price offer. The four nations [constituting the Eurofighter consortium: Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK] can produce a winning financial proposal and I fully expect that Cassidian will be doing that.” 
Howarth virtually threatened a price war in the Great Indian Arms Bazaar. According to Jane’s, “Per unit, the Typhoon bid is thought to have been more expensive than the Rafale, while operational costs would also have had a bearing on India’s decision… Dassault’s total package price was bid at about 15 per cent to 17 per cent less than that from Eurofighter and the Rafale was about USD5 million cheaper than the Typhoon per aircraft.” 
Howarth told the House of Commons on March 7 during a parliamentary debate that the Eurofighter consortium and its partner nations “stand ready to enter into further discussions with the Indian Government, should that be their wish.” In essence, he taunted Delhi to reopen the bid. Quite obviously, Britain won’t take ‘No’ for an answer from Antony. 
London could now be hoping, perhaps, that thanks to Reddy’s sense of “patriotic responsibility”, Eurofighter bid may get a fresh lease of life. Reddy should have anticipated this to happen and should have gone, in my opinion, a step further and asked whether the MMRCA deal is indeed such a critical need for India’s defence modernisation as it is made out by some quarters. 
Arguably, this could be an opportune moment for Antony himself to suo moto ask that question in deep introspection. India needs to learn from China’s modernisation programme, which heavily emphasises developing its own technological capabilities with a long-term perspective. China is making robust attempts to develop its J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, notwithstanding technological deadlocks at various stages, by tapping into Russian systems (which, of course, Moscow is wary about). 
Ironically, there has been talk of India jointly developing the fifth-generation fighter aircraft with Russia. (And unlike with the Chinese, Moscow shows no hesitation to share high technology with Indians.) Suffice to say, I am at a loss to understand what is the critical gap in the IAF’s inventory that the MMRCA hopes to fill in, anyway. 
The unsavoury allegations (true or false) over the MMRCA deal only go to underscore that some hard questions need to be asked. Isn’t it a far better proposition that India focuses (with its meagre resources) to develop the fifth-generation fighter aircraft with cutting edge technology at affordable costs jointly with Russia and thus develop our indigenous capabilities also in the bargain, rather than get entangled with western arms merchants like Howarth who never hesitate to extract their pound of flesh? 
By the way, if the Eurofighter can be sold for a cheaper price than Rafale and Britain could still make a neat profit out of the deal, why was a higher price quoted by Cassiddian in its original bid? Most certainly, the 18-billion dollar issue here is not between the eventual ‘friendly’ price of Rafale or Eurofighter. It is about India’s critical need of either of those aircraft at a whopping cost of Rupees 50000 crores. Maybe, Reddy should write another letter to Antony. 

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11 Responses

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  1. bigdippersmalldipper@rediffmail.com says

    someone want’s to scuttle the deal so that the Indian air force is left without anything to fight. This is one of the best deals we have made so far. some body should investigate the TDP MLA and find out if it is euro fighter people or some other manufacturer who is paying him.

  2. Ramanathan Umapathy says

    Mr Antony
    please do not listen to MP-Reddy-he doe snot know geo-politics or force multiplicationrafts are
    All IAF aircraft are turning into fossilized dinosaurs
    Is Reddy going to save Young IAF pilots life with bull shit Mig-21/25//27/29 crashing every second day
    We have Sukhoi 30MKI-Chinese have introduced -self developed Sukhoi-33MKI equivalent to Typhoon/Rafale
    Chinese J20 /J11 underdevelopment will be neutralized by Sukhoi-45 FGFA jointly under development with Russoians
    What we need to defend our sky with immediate replacement of Mig Series before 2017
    If You are so scared of malpractice please ask US to quote for F22 and joint development of F35..SCRAP THIS DEAL and just place order on F22-at present the best and do not go for tender etc—F22 can out shoot Rafale or Typhoon out of sky!!
    Best for India F22 AS FORCE MULTIPLIER with sukhois as second line of sky defense till Sukhoi45 is put to trials by 2015 and Inducted by 2017
    We will have low level Tejas to handle low level attacks.with predominant S30
    Each force multipliers will cover 800 sqkm areas of Indian Sky(F35

  3. Amarjit Duggal says

    $18 billion =Rupees 50000 crores.
    I think Reddy should purchase a calculator and hand it over to Anthony personally, for the next deal———-as this deal does not seem to be a good deal, for poor Indian citizens. What a world we live in where fighting is necessary for survival !

  4. manish tiwary says

    All Indian arms deals are getting stuck due to allegations which is also downing our forces Moral . Let’s end these things and give them what they want to safeguard our frontiers.
    This is deal is already 10yrs late close it As soon as possible.

  5. rockytorque says

    it is not pakistan which has not been able to attack india but the other way round.mmrca aircraft do not bring the kind of asymmetry that possesion of bvr missiles achieved for india.only stealth aircraft like jsf will be able to achieve that sort of outcome when faced by 4th gen aircraft.india is already inducting sukhoi and will continue to do so for many years.real question is when you do not have unlimited money and a cooling economy what does any mmrca aircraft do to win a nuclear war except dropping bombs from plane instead of using missiles.

  6. s b says

    Need for MMRCA? Well, the IAF is currently already below strength for the area to be defended in terms of quality and quantity of fighter aircraft – the same goes for offensive effort should push come to shove. It’s only new acquisitions in the past 20 years has been a limited number of Su-30s, all other accretions have been by upgrading existing fleets, such as MiG21, MiG27, MiG29, Jaguar and Mirage. Upgrading of aircraft mainly improves a fleet’s operational capability, but adds little to it’s overall life. Accordingly, in another 6-8 years the numbers will start dwindling, with upgraded MiG21 and MiG27s gradually reaching the end of their technical life. MiG29s, Jaguars and Mirages will reach a similar dwindling point within 10 years. The current situation for the IAF is that only 10% of it’s ‘required’ fighter fleet is fresh, about 25% mature and the rest closing on obsolescence. Do I hear why I have left out HALs Tejas from the equation? The answer to that Tejas is yet to enter service in it’s definitive version, with full operational capability. My fear is that by the time Tejas reaches that stage it will be too little and too late – remember in air operations you either win or you are dead. Let’s not put the IAF’s pilots at a disadvantage even before they have strapped up for a combat mission. My strongly heald opinion is that MMRCA (Rafale or any other) is essential for the IAF, let’s not question that requirement.

    One of the major reasons why Pakistan has not entered into a full fledged hot war with India since 1971 is the overarching superiority of the IAF over the PAF. This has been the subject of much debate in Pakistan and their army, navy and AF are painfully aware that any adventure on the ground, sea or air will be rendered unwinnable as the IAF will ensure a fair degree of dominance in the air. Just one instance to illustrate : From 1985, when IAF got Mirage and MiG29s with BVR AAM capability, to around 2005, the IAF had a huge qualitative asymmetry over the PAF. This advantage has now been nullified. Future accretions by PAF will narrow down the other advantages built up by the IAF, in the form of airborne and aerostat radars, integrated communications, networked operations, aerial refuelling, etc.

    To varying degree the same arguments hold true of China and PLAAF.

    Let not bean counters and armchair strategists question the need for MMRCA – please listen to the people who have seen the operational need from the inside AND will be held accountable in case things start going wrong.

  7. Dr Ajay says

    There seems to be no end to indecision and foot dragging in Indian Arms acquisition process. The MMRCA requirements have been around for ever. IAF identified a justifiable need for it and it was ratified by defense experts. The critics now need to shut up.
    One needs to ask: What woodwork did the Telugu Desam MP, M.V. Mysoora Reddy crawl out from? Or is there an organized psyche war by the bid losers in fanning fires by ‘patriotic zealots’? Developing serious war fighters takes lot of design

  8. cm says

    I think you people don’t know that rafale was first in the list of south korea’s deal , but due to US pressure they have gone for US planes otherwise they had plan to buy rafale only. Even they have also gone rigorous evaluation process and they found rafale was best.

  9. John Adams says

    Isn’t it a far better proposition that India focuses (with its meagre resources) to develop the fifth-generation fighter aircraft with cutting edge technology at affordable costs jointly with Russia and thus develop our indigenous capabilities also in the bargain, rather than get entangled with western arms merchants like Howarth who never hesitate to extract their pound of flesh?

    It would have been if India had the critical mass of engineers and scientists to do the job. Unfortunately, the LCA Tejas project has shown that it lacks the technical knowledge to do that.

    In case of void MMRCA is filling, India’s airforce will be flying airplanes that are no match to Pak and China in just three-four year time-frame. India needs a modern aircraft and the indegenous industry has miserably failed to produce it. If India needs to compete, it needs to start with primary education and produce a mass of well educated populace that can think creatively en masse. China has gotten half of that right by providing basic education for its people. But it still hasn’t figured out how to inject creativity in people. India needs to catch up!!! until then it needs “western” aircraft.

  10. rockytorque says

    it seems to me you are correct about your apprehensions sir.mmrca competitor aircraft fall in the category of good to have.they are not must have for india.india can deter enemies better by inducting large numbers of cheap indigenous subsonic cruise missiles.power projection should be done with home grown weapons.hard earned money should be better spent on building indigenous industries.with harsh economic times ahead fall in defence budget is a step in right direction.

  11. nikhil mehta says

    with this, you can expect a new air craft to become part of IAF by the 22nd century
    wonder what will be left of India

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