It’s finally jet, set and go for the IAF after an agonising wait of 16 years since it first demanded new multi-role fighters. India and France on Friday inked a 7.87 billion euro deal for 36 Rafale fighters, which with their state of the art 150-km range Meteor air-to-air missiles will have a clear combat edge over Pakistan‘s F-16 jets.
India will get the first Rafale in three years, with all 36 touching down by early-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, including 80-km range missiles. But once the Rafales are inducted, Pakistan will have to deploy two F-16s for each of them.
Simplistic analogies apart, the Rafale will certainly be a potent force-multiplier for the IAF , capable of also delivering nuclear weapons. The inter-governmental agreement (IGA), inked by defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian here in South Block, does not put any restriction on the fighter being used as a “strategic platform”, said sources.
Parrikar himself was quite gung-ho about the deal. “Rafale is a very potent fighter that will add to the IAF’s airpower and deep-strike capabilities,” he said. Le Drian added, “The Rafale is really the best fighter jet in the world. It is an Omni-role aircraft capable of all kinds of missions.”
French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trappier said the Rafale was more in competition with the American F-35 fifth-generation fighter because it was “a generation ahead” of the F-16. But the Rafales do cost a packet. The fighters themselves may cost around Rs 700 crore a piece. But the per unit cost zooms to Rs 1,640 crore if the overall deal is taken into account, which includes a decidedly deadly weapons package, all spares and costs for 75% fleet availability and “performance-based logistics support” for five years.
Moreover, the Rafales will be tweaked to specific Indian requirements, which range from the capability for “cold start at high altitude regions like Leh” to Israeli helmet-mounted displays, advanced missile warning and synthetic aperture radars.
Government sources said India had saved through some hardnosed bargaining over the original MMRCA (medium multi role combat aircraft) project being negotiated by the previous UPA regime. Moreover, the Rafales will come with much better weapons and maintenance support packages now.
“The Meteor missile is superior to any such missile in the region. The over 300km Scalp air-to-ground cruise missile also has two-metre precision capability. Rafale also has a faster turnaround time, capable of undertaking five sorties in a day. The other fighters we have can do only three sorties at the most,” said a source.
The Rafale deal also has a 50% offsets clause, under which France will have to plough half of the actual contract value back into India. “This has huge potential to generate direct and indirect employment opportunities in India,” he added.
Induction of the Rafales will certainly be a strong booster dose for the IAF.