Military aviation is undoubtedly the most strategic weapon today. We saw crisis in Falklands, Gulf, Bosnia, Kosvo, Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria where Air Force has always been engaged in all conflicts over the last decades. India engaged war with neighbours in 1947 (Indo-Pak), 1962 (Chinese aggression), 1965 (Indo-Pak), 1971 (Bangladesh liberation), 1999 (Kargil). The costs of military weapons are very high. The effects of world military spending are being felt to global financial crisis. Despite countries spend to delivers for geopolitical supremacy. Pentagon led the rise for so called war-on-terror leading invasion at Afghanistan and Iraq.
But US is not alone. It follows by China, Russia, UK and Japan. India’s defence allocation is 2.82 lakh crore i.e. 9p of a rupee. Thus tax payer money utilize for state-of-art training and funding military hardware. It costs India’s 1.56 percent of GDP.
Indian Air Force is one the most technologically advanced and superior Air Force in the world. Flight Cadets of Fighter Pilots go for advance training on Kirans after Basic Trainers, then move on to Intermediate Jet Trainers (IJTs) before finally graduating to Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs). These three stages are critical for fighter pilot and any shortcuts will certainly lead to disaster. Final stages are very crucial since they fly at supersonic jets such as SU-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, MiG-29, MiG 27, MiG 21 Bison and Jaguar, where speed is greater than that of sound. And IAF literally inhabits the sky.
Ironically there is limited mid-level AJT before they sit at cockpit of supersonic flight with solo flying. In absence of an AJT, rookie pilots are moving straight from IJT to frontline warplanes.
It has the fastest landing and take-off speed nearly 250 mph. The consequence is the alarming rate of aircraft incidents.
Ageing aircrafts MiG and Jaguar often develops technical snag due wear and tear. The IAF conduct intense training for a “high intensity, high stakes” conflict. Keeping in mind the possibility of a war, it puts its pilots and aircrafts through the wringer. However the induction of Swiss Pilatus trainer PC-7 Mk-II and Hawk AJT from Britain someway filled the gap. IAF must touch the sky with glory.
The upgrading of old aircraft of 70s and 80s with modern avionics, engines and radar to prolong their service life by IAF is now questionable after aircraft incidents. Russian MiG-21s are dubbed “Flying Coffins” because of their poor safety record. IAF needs 42 squadrons to protect its northern and western borders. It currently has around 34, each comprising 18 aircraft against nuclear-armed China and arch-rival Pakistan. The 9/11 attacks have reminded the world that national airspace needs to be secured in peacetime also.
After the growing tension of Aug 2017 at Doklam, India finally considered French Rafale jets over Eurofighter Typhoon for operational necessity from Dassault Aviation to face up to an increasingly assertive China. Rafale will surely give IAF an arrowhead to have a quantum jump in technology. The nuclear capability single/two-seat Rafale can fly distances up to 3,800 kilometres with that IAF can strike enemy targets. It has Omni-role capabilities from air-defence to quick strike mission, reconnaissance, training and nuclear deterrence. Also Rafale is the only jet with dedicated Air Force and Naval versions also. After France Air Force it operates in Qatar and Egypt.
Acquisition of 36 Rafale will narrow the gap in IAF inventory. The original proposal was to buy 126 aircraft. Transfer of Technology remained the primary issue of concern. Rafael purchase is a costly solution that bargained hard to get the price down to a reported Rs 58,000 Crore. India finally goes ahead with extraordinarily expensive heavy monster like Rafael. The Rafale issue is being politicised for the price despite the proposal has got a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) nod. French said it has not imposed any gag order to reveal. But estimation of prices comes out in various defence journals/newspaper.
It is not prudent to reveal the cost of India’s prospect towards weaponry since the deal is not in public domain. The defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that the Inter-Government Agreement has been called a win-win partnership between India and France and is 9% cheaper in basic price to non deal UPA price. Also India gets associated systems and weapons such as missiles (Meteor, Scalp), technology transfer and licence manufacturing technology for hardware/spares. It’s our national interest by not disclosing specific cost for enemies. But this public money is to be conveyed someday to CAG and public account committee. The defence world always lived with middlemen and corridors of the power.
Our country has overcome by signing inter government deal for combat effectiveness and of critical technologies implementation. IAF now eyes on Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) to expand its existing squadron.
Both China and India are looking to rapidly modernise their military hardware. While India deals with France, Russia, Israel and US, China is fast manufacturing on quality hardware such as fifth generation stealth fighter J-20. India should play decisive place on defence strategies.
But China’s mammoth military budget has more bragging rights vis-a-vis not just India, but global power like Japan and US. Our Prime Minister Modi wants to end India’s status as the world’s number one defence importer and to have 70% hardware manufactured domestically. India lifted a cap in all 25 sectors of economy for 100% FDI except for defence (49%), space (74%), news media (26%).
India has finalised various strategic tie-up with global aviation giants for Make in India initiative since 2014. Manufacturing deal with Russia in Dec 2015 for Kamov Ka-226 multi-role helicopter is seen as the first defence deal under Make in India campaign. Dassault believes that 36 fly-away condition jets would not be sufficient to transfer high end manufacturing technology to India. Rafale has entered into a joint venture with Reliance to meet its offset requirement of the contract. Russian MiG is to partner with HAL for missiles and weapon. HAL is busy with LCA Tejas.
Also HAL signed up with Boeing and Mahindra for F/A-18 fighter jets. HAL is awaiting orders for Dhruv produced jointly with Russia. With Rafale in bag, TATA-Lockheed Martin F-16 production can make India a fighter jet export hub in the coming decade. Global aviation giants France Airbus, Swedish Saab AB are closely watching India for defence production.
The upcoming Aero India 2019, 12th International show on aerospace, defence, civil aviation, airport infrastructure, defence engineering would surely put thrust on defence manufacturing to make India a Global Manufacturing Hub. Rafale Jet sets go, cleared for takeoff at runway India.
The writer is an Ex Air Warrior, working for IAF for twenty long years (1988-2007)