NEW DELHI: The uncertainty hanging over the Rafale deal has finally been laid to rest after the Supreme Court dismissed the review petition filed by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan, with the judges finding it devoid of ‘merit’.
"We don't feel it necessary to order an FIR (First Information Report) or a roving inquiry into the Rafale deal," said the bench comprising outgoing Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph while dismissing the petitions. "We find the review petitions are without any merit," the top court said.
The case is another example of how delays not only hit military modernization but also compel the forces to operate old equipment, costing them priceless manpower and resources. Defence deals already have a long gestation period. The forces first present the necessity to the government which accords the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for a system or equipment after which the procedure starts. And, if the deals are blocked due to political squabbles or vendor rivalry, the delay has an impact on their operational preparedness.
“This deal was very important for the Air Force as the fighter squadrons have been depleted,” said Air Vice Marshal (retd) Manmohan Bahadur, Additional Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies, Delhi.
India is down to about 30 fighter squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 42.
It was in 2000 that the Indian Air Force started to think of buying medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to replace the ageing MiG-21s. The request for information for 126 combat jets was issued in 2001 and then the request for proposal for 126 MMRCAs, at an estimated cost of Rs 42,000 crore ($6.7 billion now), was issued in 2007.
It took 12 years from the time the plan was mooted for the fighter to be identified when India shortlisted Dassault's Rafale in 2012. But it was only in October this year that the first fighter was finally handed over to India in France in the presence of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The fighter will reach India in May 2020.
Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, feels politics should not intrude into military matters as adversaries keep on building their capacity while our deals get delayed, hampering modernization.
“Adversaries have their own clear plans which are only going to benefit by delays in procurements by us. So, after due process is followed, deals should not be blocked,” he said.
A well equipped and modern military add to the strength of a country as was demonstrated by the Balakot strike when the government decided to attack the Jaish-e-Mohammed run terror camp.
India went ahead with the strike after factoring in the enemy's strengths. Air Marshal (retd) Dhiraj Kukreja feels that had Rafales already been inducted into the IAF, the adversary would have not even imagined retaliating.
“We did take measures to handle Beyond Visual Range missiles with a range of 43 kilometres which the F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force have. Now, with the addition of the 4.5 generation Rafale and the amount of firepower and other capabilities it has, the PAF would not even think of venturing close to the Indian border,” he said.
The Rafale fighters will carry Meteor BVR missiles with a range of more than 70 kilometres.