Ever since Janta Ka Reporter exclusively reported on the ghost of the Rafale scam in November last year, the Centre’s Narendra Modi government has found itself in a real spot of bother while answering questions raised about crony capitalism.
The issue gained fresh momentum this month when the Congress President Rahul Gandhi sought to embarrass the government once again during the No Confidence Debate. In a bid to hide its embarrassment, the government returned to its tried and tested trick- seek help of friendly media to spread fake news to win the argument. However, on this occasion, the Modi government’s strategy to rely on fake news to wriggle out of what appears to be one of the biggest scams in Indian defence history has spectacularly backfired, thereby heaping considerable embarrassment both on the PM, his defence minister and their chosen friends in the media.
Modi, Media and Mischief
Rahul raised the issue of the Rafale deal and crony capitalism on 20 July in the parliament. A day later, the usual suspects in the media moved swiftly to carry articles in favour of the government and made desperate attempts to justify why the new Rafale deal was better than the one struck under the UPA government. Among the arguments made by these media outlets were that the new deal was less expensive and the government had saved taxpayers Rs 59 crore per aircraft! Yes, you heard it right. India Today made this argument in its ‘report’ which contradicted its own headline!
According to India Today’s headline published on 25 July, four days after the No Confidence debate, the Modi government had saved Rs 59 crore per Rafale aircraft under NDA. (See below the report by its author Manjeet Singh Negi).
To justify its claim, the author goes on to write, “The NDA government paid Rs 59,000 crore for 36 planes while the UPA had paid Rs 1.69 lakh crore. The NDA government thus saved Rs 59 crore per aircraft.” Clearly, had the author or his editor, who approved the copy, cared to do their math, they would have envisaged the magnitude of embarrassment they were likely to find themselves in because of their latest exercise to bail the government out of its misery.
Here’s how you do the simple math. When you pay Rs 59,000 crore for 36 planes, the cost of each plane comes to Rs 1638.88 crore. And when you pay Rs 1,72,185 crore for 126 aircrafts, the cost of each plane comes to Rs 1366.54. So going by the India Today’s report, the UPA deal was Rs 272.34 crore cheaper than what the Modi government negotiated with France.
But this is not all. The India Today report’s author appeared confused on whether the UPA struck the Rafale deal for Rs 1,72,185 or Rs 1,69,000 crore because the same report has two figures. (see above).
As exclusively reported by Janta Ka Reporter, the the value of the UPA deal with the transfer of technology was Rs 90,000 and not Rs 1.69 lakh or Rs 1.72 lakh crore as reported by India Today. (You can read here (Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3).
India Today’s report above and two other reports published by Economic Times and its sister channel Times Now carried almost identical reports on 21 July, a day after the No Confidence debate in the parliament. Times Now’s headline said, “Was Rahul’s Rafale math wrong? Congress president ignored fact that France ‘gifting’ 32 Jaguars to India.” While a headline by Economic Times screamed, “What is so special about Rafale fighter jet? Here’s the lowdown.”
Both articles went on to highlight the addition of the Meteor Missile system under the new deal in order to counter the allegations of a scam. Economic Times, India Today and Times Now diligently mentioned the Meteor Missile System.
This brings me to highlight a few undisputable facts that have immense potential to harm the country if the Rafale deal was to become a reality. The acquisition of 126 aircraft was mandated by the Indian Air Force to keep its fighting forces equipped with 44 Squadrons of the fighter aircraft. For reasons best known to the government, this number was downsized to 36 aircrafts by the current government.
Though the government has cited the confidentiality clause to hide the price tag for each aircraft, the same government has already put out the most important military feature of the aircraft in public domain. We all know the IAF Rafale aircraft will have Israeli made Targo2 Helmet Mounted Targeting Device. The implausible articles of India Today, Economic Times and Times Now dwelt upon our ability to strike beyond a visual range of 100 km plus has been touted as we are getting a Meteor Missile System. The Meteor missile gives our IAF the ability to sustain a smaller fleet strength.
Now, let’s focus on the Meteor Missile System and Helmet Mounted Display. The Meteor Missile System has been developed by the consortium of EU nations. This missile was first inducted into the Swedish Air force on 11 July 2016. It was developed and tested largely on the Grippen aircraft. The Meteor missile completed its final integration flight with the Rafale aircraft on 27 April 2017. To the best of my knowledge and information available in public domain, not even the French Air force Rafale aircraft has tested the Israeli Targo2 HMD yet.
Facts are as follows:
- When India ordered 126 or 36 Rafael aircraft in 2014, 2015 or 2016, Meteor Missile and Targo 2 HMD, both weapon systems were neither integrated nor tested with the Rafale aircraft.
- Till date, performance of the Meteor missile in the Indian environmental conditions has neither been tested nor demonstrated.
- The selection of Missile System and Helmet Mounted Display & Targeting system did not go through IAF mandated protocol of technical and performance evaluation with all comparative technologies.
- The Meteor Missile System has never been tested in a battlefield scenario.
These facts are disturbing and everyone in India should be worried. Can a Social Media Buzz replace the need for stringent military evaluation process of weapon system? Does the Intergovernmental Agreement directive authorise the political leadership to bypass the weapon testing and evaluation process?
‘Facts’ don’t make sense
But the question is; if the Meteor missile system itself was inducted in service in July 2016, how could it be signed for acquisition in 2015 by PM Modi? If the Rafale aircraft completed its field trial with the Meteor Missile System only in April 2017, then how could the IAF sign for the induction of this missile in 2016? These are some of the most disturbing questions that emerge in the wake of the government’s attempt to plant favourable stories in certain media outlets.
Another question is; how does this missile perform in high altitude battleground against moving targets and how is it controlled by the Helmet Mounted Device? Will we test these before purchase or do so only after the payment is made?
The Integration of the Missile System on the aircraft is a serious condition to be considered as the launching platform needs aircraft pylon modification and guidance system through a radar and datalink. In 2012, when Rafale was field tested by the IAF, there was no question of testing the Meteor missile system as it came in service only in July 2016. The further integration of the Helmet Mounted Device will add another dimension to missile guidance which remains untested by the IAF.
Weapon system acquisition has a time tested protocol which starts with the IAF raising the requirement and inviting multiple bidders to place their products for technical and battlefield evaluation. A specification of weaponry system is laid down and manufacturers have to demonstrate the performance which is documented by the IAF Test Pilots before even considering the cost factor. It is evident that the Rafale deal in its present condition has not has adhered to these basic standard procedures.
Can we afford to induct weapons into our defence forces without even testing it once?
(The author is a retired Indian Air Force officer. You can reach him on Twitter via @khalid_ehsan)