Prime Minister Narendra Modi is considered to be the best orator in Indian politics today. But, many a time, in his over enthusiasm to please his audience and not to miss a chance to slam the Congress party, which he thinks is the greatest threat for him to come back in to power in 2019, he shoots in his own foot. On 2 March, while speaking at India Toady Conclave, he did exactly that by saying India would have done better if we had Rafale fighter jets.
He said, “Today there is a talk that India is missing the Rafale jets. The entire nation is saying that if India had Rafale jets today, the outcome of the recent incidents would have been something different. And at present, we continue to suffer due to the politicisation of the Rafale deal. The vested interests and politicisation have caused great harm to the nation’s interest.”
The first part of this statement is rather baffling. Mention of the ‘recent incidents’ was an obvious pointer to India’s attack on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camps in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. When Indian PM says that if India had Rafale, the outcome would have been different, it is an indication that the actual outcome of the air strikes was not exactly a huge success as the Modi government tried to publicise through pliable TV channels, but something different.
Originally, it was widely claimed that 12 Mirage 2000 had taken part in carrying out the air strikes in Balakot. If the IAF attack in Balakot was a success, as originally claimed, and it destroyed that particular terrorist facility, which different outcome the PM was talking about? With such a casual statement, not only did Modi admit that his government was creating a hype to invoke nationalism in the run up to the upcoming parliament elections, but he also expressed his lack of confidence in the fleet of Mirage 2000, which is built by the same manufacturer of Rafale – Dassault Aviation. This statement also raises questions on the trust our PM has on the ability of IAF pilots, who participated in the operation that day.
Modi questions IAF’s wisdom
The second part of the PM’s statement – delay in acquiring the Rafale has to be explained in detail. One of the main defences of the BJP for Modi’s unilateral announcement to procure 36 Rafale from France in flyaway condition was that the previous government could not conclude the MMRCA deal after 17 years and it created an emergency situation (with lack of adequate number of fighter jets), thereby prompting Modi to order for an immediate induction.
The best document we can depend to analyse the delay in this procurement saga is the recently released CAG report, which the central government said was a validation of their stand. In fact, not only did the CAG report call out the bluff of many union cabinet ministers and BJP leaders, but also acquitted the previous UPA government of all the accusations made by the saffron party for the delay in concluding the deal.
The alleged irregularities in the purchase of Rafale jets from France was first unearthed by Janta Ka Reporter in November 2017 through a series of special reports by Ravi Nair. This prompted the Congress to and other opposition parties to raise the issue and corner Prime Minister Modi.
The CAG, as known to most people who followed the Rafale deal, makes it clear that the IAF wanted to procure 126 MRCA (Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) and their choice was Mirage 2000 which they already use. The IAF was happy with Mirage 2000 for their performance and the support they have received from France for the supply of spare parts at the time of the Krgil conflict in 1999. The IAF proposal was to procure two squadrons in flyaway condition from France and the rest to be built in India by HAL under Transfer of Technology (ToT).
The IAF’s expectation was that if the government accepted its proposal, the induction could start from 2004-05 onwards. The CAG says that the ministry of defence refused to accept this proposal arguing that the then prevailing Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) of 1992 did not permit single vendor procurement and asked the IAF to invite competitive bids from different manufacturers for transparency.
The IAF again approached the MoD in March 2001 saying Mirage 2000 was more cost effective. They pointed out, as per the CAG, that the ‘other available options such as Rafale, Eurofighter, F-35, etc., were technologically superior to Mirage 2000, the excess combat capability of these aircraft would remain underutilized as the Air Force requirement was a comparatively modest aircraft for shorter range missions.’
The government repeated its stand again in June that year that the IAF should not violate the DPP mandate and must go for a competitive bidding. The IAF was not ready to back down. In December 2001, it approached the government again saying the proposal should not be considered as a single vendor purchase, but an extension of the earlier deal under which the same aircraft were purchased from France.
It will be better to quote from the report to understand the stand the IAF had taken. “At the insistence of IAF, technical discussions were held from April to September 2002, between M/s Dassault Aviation of France, HAL, DRDO and Ministry (Finance) to study the operational capability of the aircraft, maintenance aspects and licensed manufacture of the aircraft at HAL. Subsequently, in March 2003, IAF argued before the Defence Procurement Board (DPB) that Mirage 2000 MK II was the best option as in terms of capability and performance it was similar to its contemporaries like Rafale of M/s DA, France, Eurofighter of M/s EADS and Gripen of M/s SAAB, Sweden, but less expensive then these aircraft. IAF also argued that though F-16/F-18 of M/s Lockheed Martin/Boeing USA were in similar class as the Mirage 2000 MK II, it could face difficulties in case sanctions were imposed by USA. Rafale and Eurofighter were technologically superior to the Mirage 2000, but Mirage 2000 MK II could also have the state of art avionics, sensors and weapons suite, developed for the Rafale aircraft.”
Defence Procurement Board deliberated the issue for almost a year and in January 2004 rejected the IAF proposal and asked the IAF to start a competitive tendering process in accordance with the DPP 2002.
CAG says, four years lost in deliberating whether to procure from a single source vendor without competitive bid or not. Let us not forget that, in these four years, BJP led NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power at the centre.
Ministry of Defence, according to the CAG, admitted that the delay had taken place. But in their reply, the MoD explained to CAG, “because of the exemplary performance of Mirage 2000 in the Kargil Conflict, IAF wanted Mirage 2000 II, as the MMRCA.” By stating ”if India had Rafale jets today, the outcome of the recent incidents would have been something different”, PM Modi has actually questioned the wisdom of IAF and contradicted MoD’s stand on the capabilities of Mirage 2000.
The CAG report pointed out, IAF issued a detailed Request for Information asking details about warranty, product support, maintenance, patents, ToT and offsets. Based on the replies, the RFP was put out on 2007. It caused a delay of another three years and total seven years lapsed since the IAF first floated the proposal.
Bids were submitted in 2008 and technical evaluation started in in May 2008. Technical Evaluation Committee submitted its report in May 2009 and it was approved by the MoD in the same month. Then IAF started the Field Evaluation of the aircrafts and its report was submitted in December 2010. In April 2011, it was announced that Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale are the final contenders and they were asked to submit their final offer. In November that year, the final proposal was submitted to the MoD and two months later, on 30 January 2012, Rafale was announced the winner.
In this entire process, if we look at, there was no delay till then from the government side. The IAF took the time it had to take for the process of evaluations. The UPA government’s negotiations with Dassault Aviation started only in March 2012 and it continued for 26 months till May 2014. Therefore, the claim by Modi and his party, the BJP that the UPA government delayed the process of procurement is just a political statement to score moral high ground to cover up Modi’s unilateral decision to procure 36 Rafale in violation of the procedures.
In contrast, Modi government continued with the negotiation for 11 months before Modi made his unilateral announcement. After his announcement, the government negotiated fifteen months for the conclusion of the new deal before signing the agreement in September 2016. Two and half years have passed since then and not a single Rafale has arrived in India as promised by the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar.
There is no doubt that the PM’s statement on the delay of procuring Rafale was just a political statement to hide his own culpability and to pacify his own supporters, many of whom have begun to question the credibility of the statement on the success of Balakot air strikes.
If the PM’s statement was aimed at the downing of MiG 21, again, Modi has questioned the wisdom of the IAF. Isn’t it the responsibility of the IAF to decide which fighter jet suits for what kind of sortie and where?
In nutshell, PM Modi, in his quest to score cheap political points and downplay the allegations of his wrongdoings in the Rafale deal, has contradicted his own government’s claims and portrayed the IAF in bad light. It is high time he did away with his usual rhetoric and spoke more on his performance as the country’s PM in the last five years. And, we all know, that is what he is incapable of doing!