NEWDELHI: French Rafale’s win in the multi-billion dollar contract for medium multi role combat aircraft (MMRCA) is set to change the age-old dominance of Indian skies by Russian jets. The French mean machines will be the mainstay of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the decades to come.
At present, about 70 per cent of IAF inventory comprises Soviet-vintage MiG series aircraft and the Russian-built Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets. For long, the force has been grappling with depleting fighter strength owing to the crashing of its ageing fleet of MiG-21s and the ever-elusive indigenous combat jet, and therefore had to put up with the lack of a thorough after-sales support from the Russians.
“Our dealing with French in the recent past, especially after the Mirage acquisition, is point of high confidence. Mirage has an impeccable safety record and it has sustained high serviceability requirements,” said former Vice Chief, Air Marshal PK Barbora.
The twin-engine 4.5 generation (based on 1980s designs) Rafale will change the face of the fourth largest air force in the world. Already the fighter jet has proved its mettle by outdoing its Russian contender in fray, the MiG-35; now it will replace the obsolete MiG-21 fleet of the IAF. Rafale —deemed by French as the solution for all air forces in the world for being capable of air-to-air, air-to-surface and carrier-based missions—will give the IAF a capability of performing greater roles with same number of platforms.
“I have no doubts that Rafale will make IAF a potent air force, capable of carrying all sorts of operations in the future that we envisage as the aircraft will be able to switch roles either mid-air or on the ground,” Barbora added.
To win this dogfight for the largest open military tender, Rafale has downed its arch competitor Anglo-German-Italian consortium EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon by proving to be cheaper—or as the government officials like to put it—value for money. Three decades ago, France had pulled out of the Eurofighter project to make its own fighter jet, essentially a successor of Mirage.
The fight for IAF’s tender was also played out in Libya war last year as the two competing fighter jets were up against each other. Both the jets pounded Libya day and night in what became a major marketing ploy as they became “proven in combat”.
While the exploits of the two jets against defenceless Libya played little role in Rafale’s selection, what went in favour is its features. The aircraft, owing to its low signature and high manoeuvrability, can dodge the enemy radars and can strike the enemy hard while remaining elusive. The aircraft with a weight of 22-24 tonnes had entered the service in French Air Force in 2004. The multi-role jet can perform air defence, ground attack and reconnaissance missions with ease. Armed with air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, it has the capability of delivering nine tonnes of bombs and firing a range of missiles, including those capable of hitting a ship.
The contract signing will take more than six months as Contract Negotiation Committee commences gruelling cost negotiation with the French aerospace major. The other point of contention remains the transfer of technology—will Dassault readily share 60 per cent of the aircraft’s technology with India in four phases to give a boost to the indigenous agencies?
With the size of the deal likely to touch $20 billion, as per some estimates, it is imperative that the offset clause that makes it mandatory for the winner to re-invest 50 per cent of the total value of the deal in the domestic defence and civil aviation market will be debated with vigour.