Days after the Indian Air Force leadership went on the record to declare India’s 2016 Rafale deal a far better arrangement than the one under negotiation by a previous government — the heart of a political storm gripping the election-bound country — things went further today. Making its defence of the Rafale deal official, in the only way the military can, a formal presentation today led by an IAF Air Marshal put forth a 10-point list of reasons why 2016 deal was cleaner, better and more economical than any earlier one.
Here’s a slide from the presentation made a short while ago on Wednesday by Air Marshal SBP Sinha, currently chief of the IAF’s Central Command and earlier Deputy Chief during negotiations for the aborted earlier attempt to purchase 126 Rafales:
While the IAF’s current Vice and Deputy chiefs have weighed in on the controversy by defending a ‘beautiful aircraft’, the fact that the officer making today’s 10-point defence of the Rafale deal happened to be the point man for negotiations from Air Force Headquarters during the collapsed earlier negotiations strengthens the salvo. In a series of unusually forthright slides, quite clearly compelled by the current cloud over the deal, the IAF Air Marshal delves into virtually every aspect that has become politically contentious. For instance, he drives home the point that such a deal wouldn’t have been possible in any formulation other than a government-to-government arrangement, indicating clearly that the competitive earlier process was faulty:
He then goes on to affirm that the French government integrity on the Rafale deal, curiously throwing into question (a) earlier government-to-government deals by India (including with the French on Mirage 2000 jets) and, (b) the earlier negotiations for Rafales under the previous government.
Possibly the most powerful statement in the IAF officer’s presentation today has been a counter-attack on politics over Dassault Aviation’s choice of Reliance Defence as an offsets partner, and suggestion that HAL — an intended manufacturing partner in the earlier M-MRCA contest — had somehow been ditched in the current arrangement. Air Marshal Sinha here proffers an familiarly plaintive pitch about the jarring lack of level playing field between state-owned and private sector defence industries in the country. He begins with the provocative suggestion that political parties raise no objections to India spending billions on equipment sourced from private companies abroad:
Taking further its counter that to the suggestion that India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was ‘ejected’ from the Rafale proceedings in 2016, the IAF has also for the first time officially confirmed the well known rift between Dassault and HAL that notoriously stalled the M-MRCA in its final leg. Terming them ‘irresolvable differences’, the IAF will likely have only fed the political fire that’s burning.
The Rafale is a contender for the Indian Air Force’s 114 Make-in-India fighter program, a project in which the winning aircraft will need to built in India at a new facility. The Rafale is also a prospective contender for the Indian Navy’s requirement of 57 carrier-borne fighter jets for its future aircraft carriers.
The Indian Air Force’s staunch and well-defined defence of the Rafale comes a day after a civil society grouping of two former Union ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and well-known lawyer Prashant Bhushan accused the government of firing off the shoulders of the Indian Air Force, and that ‘brave men and women in uniform’ had been enlisted to defend the Rafale deal.
While the Shourie/@PBhusan1/@YashwantSinha press conference on the Rafale today offered no real new information/data, one new element was their take on the @IAF_MCC's emphatic defence last week of the Rafale: pic.twitter.com/B8F6UEzxgr
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) September 11, 2018
It won’t be surprising if politicians attacking the Rafale deal now accuse the government of manipulating the Indian Air Force into entering a conversation it would rather not have anything to do with. And this will be alongside discomfort over the idea of the Indian Air Force stepping at all into the daily crossfire between India’s ruling and opposition parties. As an Indian Air Force team readies to depart for France to scope out the first Indian Rafale that enters flight test this month, one thing is certain: an an election year, there are no bench-warmers.
[Slide Grabs Courtesy Snehesh Alex Philip]