On December 14 last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that there was no reason to doubt the decision-making process behind the Rafale jet deal. It has reaffirmed its position on November 14, 2019.
The Supreme Court’s order, however much the government may make it seem, does not mean exoneration from corruption. It relates to the process.
Even in terms of the process, there are some questions.
This despite the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013 (DPP) very clearly laying out the sequence of steps, the AON came as an afterthought.
The CFA for procurement cases valued at more than ₹ 1000 crores was the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
lGA also facilitates and strengthens the foreign industry’s commitment for long-term support for the equipment and spares through a matching commitment by a sovereign government. In the case of the Rafale purchase, no such IGA was sought or obtained.
This is the crux of the issue. Is India paying too much for this fine fighting aircraft?
The Modi government has begun to pay French vendor Dassault Euro 7.85 billion for 36 Rafale fighters, or an average-per-fighter cost of Euro 217 million. That is 40 per cent higher per aircraft than Dassault’s quote of Euro 19.5 billion for 126 fighters – or Euro 155 million per Rafale – that it submitted in response to an eventually aborted tender issued in 2007.
Now something about the next controversy about the “India specific capabilities” built into these 36 Rafales.
What is new here are the performance-based logistics support and the weapons package. So take out 1053 million euros out and you have the comparable cost, which means it is 7.1 billion euros. It appears that the fiddle is in the India specific costs, additional infrastructure and support, and performance logistics support. The first MMRCA deal also would have included India specific specifications, as is in the case of the IAF’s SU30MKI’s.
Thus for comparison’s sake, the argument can be made that 36 Rafale’s now cost 7.1 billion euros while 126 Rafale’s in 2012 cost 7.75 billion euros.
IAF "spokesmen" have been justifying the Rafale purchase because the package includes the Meteor air-to-air missile. The Meteor is an active radar-guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) developed by MBDA.
It will offer a multi-shot capability against long-range manoeuvring targets in a heavy electronic countermeasures (ECM) environment with a range in excess of 100 kilometres (62 mi). The Meteor is said to be five times as lethal as a conventional equivalent such as the American AMRAAM carried by PAF F-16 fighters.
The Meteor is not exclusive to the Rafale. The fact is that the Swedish Gripfen has now been integrated with the Meteor and open sources indicate that the IAF too is contemplating integrating the SU-30MKI and Meteor. Even the Tejas can be fitted out with Meteors. So we are not buying the Rafale for the Meteor.
The cost of procuring Meteors is hard to come by. Limited figures came to light in Germany in 2013. The Luftwaffe will acquire 150 missiles at a cost of around $323 million, plus a further $175 million for integration.
That compares favourably with a price tag of $423 million for 180 AIM-120Ds, which the Pentagon paid in 2012. Today each Meteor will cost about 2.5 million euros each.
I don’t think the IAF will need more Meteor missiles than the USAF or Luftwaffe. Missile purchase can never be part of the capital cost of a fighter. Since they are expendable, and presumably meant to be expendable, they should be part of revenue expenditure.
When Chief Justice Gogoi asked IAF officers as to when was the last induction of advanced fighter jets, Air Vice Marshal T Chalapati testified that this was in the 1980s in the shape of Mirage aircraft.
No wonder Chief Justice Gogoi said: "that means from the 1980s till date there has been zero addition." This testimony is blatantly false. This interaction took place in the presence of Air Marshals Anil Khosla (Vice Chief) and VR Choudhari (Dy.Chief), and additional defence secretary, Apurva Chandra. They were quiet.
The IAF inducted the SU30MKI's from the mid-1990s onwards and has over 240 of these fighters. The more recent deliveries have electronics comparable with the current state of the art. The aircraft may be classified as 3.5 Gen by the AVM, but that is because it was designed in that time period.
But to impute that the same plane made in 2010 is limited to that times capability is also rubbish. Technology moves on and even airframes, while essentially the same, changes to enhance aerodynamics and stealth capability.
For that matter, the Rafale prototype was up and flying in the late 1980s. I saw it at Farnborough in 1988. So how is it 4+ Gen? That was the year the SU27 - the forerunner of the SU30 and SU35 - made its debut in Paris only in 1987.
Finally to insist that letting the overall unit price be known will reveal the true capability of the new Rafale’s is a complete concoction and figment of the imagination.
It’s just a lie. What the price will reveal, since the India specific capabilities haven’t changed since 2013, is how much the Modi government padded up the cost.
(The author is a well-known commentator based now in Hyderabad. The views expressed are his own.)