Lalu in jail, Sonia Rahul on bail, numerous other politico small and big declared scoundrels and worse by the courts. Politico’s stock is so low that we will believe anything – bad – about them.
And so to Rafale and Ambani and Modi. We don’t know if anything underhand took place. But Rafael is a ₹ 59,000 crore deal, Ambani is an industrialist with only a little experience in defence production, and Modi is a politico. So we are prepared to believe that some hanky-panky took place, even though no evidence as yet that it did.
Having suffered in 2014 the consequences of people’s perception of corruption in politics, Congress is quick to latch on to Rafale deal. Why only 24 aircraft, why Ambani, why the cost escalation, why, why, why – they are screaming. Forgetting that it was their fifteen years’ of inaction that has led to the alarming situation where the Indian Air Force, tasked with fighting a two-front war, is hard pressed to cope with even a one-front war! Against a requirement of 42 combat squadrons, it is down to 33 squadrons, to only 31 effevtive-squadrons. And of these 17 squadrons are of vintage Mig 21 [first flight (ff) 1956], Jaguar [ff 1968], and Mig 27 [ff 1970]. Fighters with design-age of more than fifty years! A crisis that needed urgent resolving.
A back of the envelope calculation would show that over the next twenty years, the IAF needs to induct about 500 combat aircraft, about 230 of these in the next ten years, that is, by 2027; and that the program cost would be about ₹ 06 lakh crore in the next ten years, and about ₹ 13 lakh crore in the next fifteen years. At today’s prices.
If most, or at least some of this money has to come to India, then we need to build defence-industry in the country. And for that, participation of private industry is essential. None in the private industry in the country has experience of defence production. So one and all of them will be newcomers. Lockheed Martin has forged a partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), SAAB with the Adani group, and Dassault with Reliance. All the Indian partners are new to defence production.
The advantage and ills of a defence-industry complex are too well known to recount here. The economist and social scientists can argue and pronounce on its benefits or otherwise to the country. But finally the buck stops at the politico. It is their call. Should, or shouldn’t the country have a defence–industry? And if yes, then how do we create it if we ban entry in to it of Indian companies without experience of defence production?
But let’s return to Rafale and why only 24 of them. Simple answer is that we needed an immediate answer to an emergency situation to give ourselves time to ponder. Do we want all 500 aircraft to be Rafale? Do we want a mix of single-engine fighters like F-16 and Gripen, and twin-engine fighters like F/A-18 and the Rafale? And what about beyond the 500 fighters? Do we need the fifth generation fighters, the stealth fighters, like F 22 raptor and F 35 Lightning II of the US, Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 of China, Sukhoi Su-57 of Russia, and Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin research aircraft of Japan. Surely the IAF which looks 30-40 years ahead is thinking about the fifth generation stealth fighters and where and when they fit in to IAF’s inventory.
Argue not about Rafale. Argue about military-industry complex. Argue about stealth.