In April this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited three nations in Europe. Of them, one was France. A key item on PM’s busy agenda was to acquire 36 Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation in France.
Back home in India, people were both excited and curious about the newly acquired fighter jets.
The biggest USP of Rafale jets is its agility. These twin-engine multirole planes come with a wide array of weapons and can carry out a variety of missions both on land and sea. High-accuracy strikes, nuclear strike deterrence, and capability to handle both short and long range attacks are some of its distinguishing features.
Over the years the Indian Air Force has witnessed a steady depletion in its fleet strength, down from a sanctioned strength of 42 to 34 squadrons. Experts have repeatedly pointed out the dangers of this situation and the urgent need to acquire medium multi-role combat aircrafts.
“The Indian Air force is facing a critical shortage of fighter aircrafts, there is an urgent need to address this issue. The induction of Rafale to the Air Force is a welcome start,” explains Retd Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak.
It was then that the government decided to acquire the much-needed firepower in the form of 126 multirole fighters. The search zeroed in on 6 aircrafts, of which the Rafale was one. By April, 2011 it came down to two names – Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.
However for many years, despite IAF’s pressing need for fighter aircrafts, the negotiations in the Rafale deal saw no headway. Only on April 10, 2015 the deal was finalised during PM Modi’s visit to Paris. India asked for a speedy delivery of 36 Rafales in fly-away condition.
With the purchase of Rafale jets, the IAF was aiming to fill the gap between its future Light Combat Aircrafts Tejas and its in-service Sukhoi Su-30MKI air superiority fighters.
There was no doubt that Rafale aircrafts were expensive. But defence experts felt that the fighters were worth their value because their maintenance and overall operating costs weren’t too high when compared to other aircrafts. Rafale is set to be India’s most advanced fighter when inducted into the IAF in two years.
Air Marshal Vinod Patney, DG, Centre for Air Power Studies calls the addition of Rafales to the IAF “a great advantage.” He says, “When they (Rafales) join our ranks, without doubt, the strength and power of the Indian Air Force will increase. Much more importantly, the capability of these aircrafts is such that our adversaries would be constrained to combat it because they would be much better than anything else that our adversaries would be able to field in the foreseeable future.”
After the Rafale deal was through, many experts raised questions about government’s ‘Make In India’ policy for the defence sector. India still is the largest importer of defence equipment and at the moment, it spends almost 70% of its capital defence expenditure on imports.
The Rafale deal addresses IAF’s immediate requirements but originally India had set a target to buy 126 aircrafts. What happens to the remaining 90 aircrafts that the IAF is short of? Will there be a “Make in India” element in them?