New Delhi: A 16-year wait for a new medium multi-role combat plane for the Indian Air Force is finally over. India today inked a Euro 7.8 billion ($8.7 billion) deal with France for 36 nuclear-capable Rafale combat planes that will come with modern weapons, changing the aerial combat dynamics in the region for now.
India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar inked the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) comprising of several documents relating to the Rafale deal with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, in the presence of plane-integrator Dassault Aviation Chief Executive Officer Eric Trappier.
Parrikar was upbeat about the purchase of Rafale being completed within 15 months of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the Indian government decision to buy 36 Rafale off the shelf from France in a government-to-government agreement instead of the 126 under the tender issued by the previous UPA government in 2007.
“Indian Air Force needed a potent aircraft with deep strike capability and that can fly at high altitudes carrying potent weapons. Rafale is a very potent fighter that will add to the IAF’s airpower and deep-strike capabilities,” he said. “The Rafale is really the best fighter jet in the world. It is an omni-role aircraft capable of all kinds of missions,” Le Drian said.
Rafale is a mutli-role fighter aircraft capable of undertaking all types of missions with a capability to simultaneously perform both Air Defence and Ground attack roles in a single mission. Induction of Rafale aircraft will enhance IAF’s strategic reach and provide technological edge.
The version of the Rafale aircraft being supplied to India will have better operational capabilities than the Rafale aircraft being operated by all other air forces in terms of better radar, better detection and survival features and will have capabilities for operations from higher altitude air fields.
The financials of the present contract are like this: India pays about Euro 3.4 billion for the 36 aircraft alone; another Euro 710 million goes for the weapons suites that will include the Meteor air-to-air missile and the Storm Shadow (SCALP) missile; there will be a performance-based logistics support for which Indian pays Euro 353 million; India gets enhancements in the Rafale that is specific to its Air Force needs for which Euro 1.7 billion will be paid; and there will be associate supplies that France provides India for Rafale that would cost Euro 1.8 billion.
India will make a 15 per cent down payment towards the deal to France. The 36 aircraft comes with eight trainer versions, but there is no restriction on the usage of the 36 aircraft in any manner that India wants. However, there will be no option to buy 18 more aircraft for the same cost at which these 36 have now been contracted. The 36 Rafales would come with 14 India-specific enhancements to its capabilities and systems.
At the end of negotiations, India has arrived at a cost of Euro 91 million for each of the fighter versions of the Rafale aircraft and Euro 94 million for each of the trainer versions. This figure is for the bare aircraft without any weapons or India specific components. However, with all the packages included in the cost, each aircraft cost come to Euro 215 million (Rs. 1,611 crore) for each Rafale.
The aircraft deliveries will begin by September 2019 and would be completed by March 2022. Till then, in the event of a conflict, India will have to deploy two Sukhoi-30MKIs to tackle each Pakistani F-16 due to the latter’s superior weapons package that includes a 80-km beyond visual range missile. But once the Rafales are inducted, Pakistan will have to deploy two F-16s for each of the Rafales. That’s the game-changer. The added advantage for Rafale is its strategic weapons capability. Rafale are a potential platform for delivering nuclear weapons against India’s enemy. However, both Indian and the French side were non-committal on the nuclear weapon delivery role for Rafale.
The MBDA-made Meteor missile, with a range of 150 km, provides a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capability that is almost twice that of the Pakistani capability. India had an edge in BVR air-to-air combat capability during the Kargil war in 1999 against Pakistan. But that advantage was lost sometime between then and now, when Pakistan acquired AIM-120C5 60-km BVR missiles for its F-16s. This contract for Rafale restores India’s superiority in this sphere of aerial warfare.
Against China too, the Indian BVR capability is much better. China’s People’s Liberation Army (Air Force) uses the PL-12 BVR missile that has a range of about 100 km. China is yet to prove and deploy its PL-15 BVR missile that matches the Meteor’s range.
The 300-km Storm Shadow SCALP (a French acronym for General Purpose Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile), again from MBDA, provides a greater accurate land attack capability to the Indian Air Force. These apart, the Rafale would come with more lethal and potent weapons package. However, the Meteor negotiation successfully concluded by India is a major tactical advantage to the nation’s air force.
Israeli-made helmet mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking, towed decoy systems are part of the package, making the Rafale even more potent than the French version.
French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft maker), MBDA (missiles maker) and Thales (avionics) would perform the contract obligations, which will include a 50 per cent defence offset clause. Under the offsets that would be worth Euro 3 billion over the next seven years, about 74 per cent of the plough back amount will be used for making components and parts for the Rafale planes in India. That will enable Indian defence industry to gain some business for themselves and to develop manufacturing capabilities for components and parts of the Rafale plane and aspire to join the global supply chain for the aircraft.
The French companies will soon finalise their Indian Offset Partners and intimate the government in this regard. The offset implementation is likely to begin in two years from now and the finalisation of the offset proposals and the Indian partners would happen by then, according to Indian Ministry of Defence officials with knowledge of the deal.
The French companies may even enter into a joint venture with an Indian company, either public or private sector, to execute the offset. State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will be eligible to become the Indian offset partner to the French companies. All of these offset plans, have huge potential to generate direct and indirect employment opportunities in India. The execution of offset contracts and subsequent product support requirements also has the potential to create employment opportunities in Warehousing and Supply Chain Management in India.
There will be a technology transfer too in this deal under the offset clause. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is finalising the technology that it requires from France. Aero-engine technology too is one of the considerations for the offset. That technology transfer will be about eight per cent of the deal defence offset, which should be finalised in the next six months, under this deal.
The Indian negotiators were successful in obtaining a promise in the contract for training free-of-cost for 10 air force personnel, including three pilots, six technicians and an engineer. This training for personnel was not part of the negotiations that India was doing with Dassault Aviation under the now-dead tender. This is in addition to the training for Indian Air Force personnel by the French Industrial Suppliers, as it was being negotiated before. The 36 Rafales package will also include training simulators for the Indian Air Force personnel.