At the air show, where the IAF chief made that comment, the spotlight also shined conspicuously on friction between Sukhoi and the IAF over the unexplained seat ejection that caused the type’s fifth accident last year. The Russians weren’t happy. And the IAF saw Sukhoi’s remarks to journalists as hostile and out of line. “When we are wrong, we will say so. When the Indian pilot is wrong, the IAF should not be shy to admit that,” an irritated UAC officer told me at the time. While the IAF chief kept his cool about Sukhoi’s comments, in private IAF officers fumed at what they saw as temerity.
Dassault Aviation and the French government were always prepared for rumblings of power-play and suggestive pressure from the Indian MoD, but the speed at which the conversation heated up caught all involved by surprise. For Dassault, it would now be fighting on two fronts — one, with a confident new government that promised quick action either way. And two, with the Russians, India’s largest suppliers of military hardware, who were practically invited into the tense last lap of the M-MRCA fight by the Indian MoD. The French Defence Minister, who visited Delhi last month for the second time in less than eight weeks, didn’t bring up the Su-30 MKI. The French didn’t have a direct play, political or otherwise. It was felt that things were too delicate at the negotiations table to poke at something that was, as Paris understood it, a clear message that India wasn’t going to budge on final sticking points. Told that it needed to work on a joint liability matrix with HAL for the license build programme, Dassault decided to put its head down and bide its time.
Here’s the latest state of play:
- Russia smells real blood. Through their Trade Office and the Embassy, an existing conversation about additional numbers of the Su-30 & upgrades of earlier units has been re-energised with the additional sweetener of a markedly higher degree of local content and sourcing on any additional Su-30s India may choose to license build in Nashik.
- Livefist can confirm that Russia has also offered India the Su-35 ‘Super Flanker’, but kept the details open. The type is officially on the table now with Russia inviting India to help configure a Su-35 ‘MKI’.
- Russia is attempting to contain the twin damage of (a) information about engine trouble and fleet availability. Rosoboronexport has begun discussions with the IAF and HAL. And (b) the issue of the mysterious seat ejections. Both sides have decided to sort out the issue cordially and in private. It doesn’t want to lose the momentum it received from the initial suggestion that more Su-30s could cushion the potential collapse of the M-MRCA.
- Dassault and HAL are currently working at a furious pace to have something to show to the MoD in the next one week, though it remains unlikely that there will be anything for Prime Minister Modi & President Hollande to announce next week in Paris.
- On March 18, Defence Minister Parrikar said, “They have to tell us whether they can do it or not. Can’t keep waiting.”