Will India buy 36 more Rafale Jets?

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Picture Courtesy : http://www.dnaindia.com

Controversy on the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets has not yet died and there have been reports that government is mulling over purchasing 36 more Rafale jets from France. The Congress on one hand accused Modi government of purchasing Rafale jets at higher cost causing a loss of Rs ‘12,000 Crore’ to the country, but on the other hand French government wants India to announce talks for purchasing 36 more Rafale jets. According to the report published in NDTV, French Defence Minister Florence Parly has written a letter to Nirmala Sitharaman on 26th February which indicates that French Government is keen in extending the Rafale deal with India. Indian government has not taken a final decision yet.

Other report published in Economic Times stated that French officials pitched for selling another batch of 36 Rafale fighter jets to India during the talks between Parly and Sitharaman.  Parly was in favour of extending the Rafale deal to strengthen defence ties between both the countries.

India will start receiving the first set of Rafale fighter jets from 2019.

France is also pitching on behalf of its defence supplier SAFRAN to develop combat aircraft engine in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for India’s Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out over the period of time, whether government will purchase another set of 36 Rafale jets and intensifies political controversy or will play safe and avoid further purchase of Rafale fighter jets?

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Rafale Deal Controversy: A political fight to demoralise our forces

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Congress launched fresh salvo on the government over the Rafale deal during the winter session of the parliament. Congress slammed the deal, terming it a scam of Rs 50,000 crore.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected opposition’s demand to disclose the breakdown price of the Rafale deal.

Opposition refused to accept the reason given by the government. Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe on the government and termed this deal as a scam and alleged Prime Minister Narendra Modi for personally getting this deal done.

During UPA government, deal of USD 12 billion which amounts to Rs 78,000 crore (approx.) was inked for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), Rafale Fighter jets. Out of these 126 jets 18 were to be procured in ‘ready to fly’ condition and rest 108 fighter jets were to be produced in India by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL). UPA government failed to conclude the deal before the elections 2014.

After coming to power NDA government scrapped the old deal and signed fresh deal to procure 36 fighter jets in ‘ready to fly’ condition for Euro 7.8 billion which amounts to Rs 59,000 crore (approx.). According to this new deal 75 percent Rafale fleet will always be operational as compared to UPA’s Rafale deal which was only 48 percent.

Congress also alleged that cost of each Rafale fighter jet rose to almost three times from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,570 crore.

Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said, “It is a very opaque government. It is absolutely astounding, if you read the agreement, secrecy clause applies only the issue of technology, intellectual property right. It cannot be applied to price. Price is in the public domain, after all it is a biding.”

Jha further added, “We are only asking the government for the breakdown of the cost. We were getting it for Rs 526 crore and they are paying Rs 1,500 crore. We want to know what government is hiding.”

Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao hits back at Congress. Speaking on the entire controversy, Rao said, “Rahul Gandhi and his party have hit a dead end. They are approaching elections with no issue against the government. No wonder the search for issue has redirected him to Rafale deal which is driven by his own government in 2005.” Clarifying government’s stand on the issue of confidentiality Rao said, “While the confidentiality argument and the overall choice of Rafale is made by the Congress regime. Government has nothing to hide. In fact UPA government had given the same answer when they were in power when the same issue was raised in the parliament.”

Opposition is also raising questions over the 50 percent offset deal between Dassault and Reliance Defence Ltd. Congress blamed PM Modi for favoring Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd. for getting Rs 30,000 crore deal as a Indian partner to Dassault  as Reliance has no expertise in this field.

Jha said, “Large section of those defence offset has been given to a private contractor and not to HAL. HAL is a public sector company with expertise and earlier also had working agreement with Dassault .The agreement was signed on 13th March 2014.”

Whereas BJP spokesperson Rao termed it as a part of ‘Make in India’ campaign to give boost to indigenous industries in defence sector. Rao said, “We wanted to ensure that Indian companies should get a fair chance to manufacture it locally and that applied to even defence sector.” Taking a jibe at congress Rao further added, “All these are global tenders and biding processes which are transparent and open and not made in family tight rooms like done in UPA regime.”

The deal signed by the NDA government capped inflation at 3.5 percent as compared to that of previous deal which was 3.9 percent.

Defence expert, Air Marshal (Retd.) Kapil Kak termed the entire controversy as political fight which will have negative consequences on armed forces. Air Marshal (Retd.) Kak said, “It is not that one deal is better or other deal is better, we are just comparing apple and oranges. In case of UPA Rafale deal it was mere speculation of what we could have got, but in case of the deal signed by NDA government we have proper contract with precise details of what we are getting out of the deal.”

Speaking on the issue of government not disclosing the breakdown price of each fighter jet, Air Marshal (Retd.) Kak said, “The government had entered confidentiality pact with the French government as France is also selling the same fighter jets to other countries.”

Now the question arises that if UPA government had concluded the deal, then there would have been any controversy?

Currently our Air Force is short of fighter jets. We need to have 42 squadrons of fighter jets but we have only 33 squadrons.

Our defence forces need modern technology and equipment to counter increasing threat on the borders instead of these controversies. We need to build morale of our defence forces, rather than fighting over a defence deal. Controversies like these will demoralise our forces.

We need to fulfil the gap of rest 90 fighter jets, as we are purchasing only 36 Rafale jets instead of 126 jets, but our leaders busy in questioning each other to satisfy their political motives.