Experts believe the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets is a welcome step to augment the capabilities of the IAF but the number is too small for logistical and operational reasons. They also agreed that until India can build its own aircraft, the increasing diversity in the fleet cannot be addressed.
India and France signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) on Friday, ending negotiations for the direct purchase which began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the direct purchase in April 2015. The IAF will have just two squadrons in service.
“India needed a potent deep penetration aircraft for diverse roles and we decided that 36 were enough,” one defence official observed on the rationale.
Air Vice Marshal Amit Aneja (retired) said the deal was long overdue as “time has a premium” but questioned the rationale of only 36 aircraft as “it is not a sustainable number for a viable force of such a platform.” “There will also be sub-utilisation of the skills developed by the workforce due to the limited numbers,” he noted.
“The Mirage deal was a success story and that should have served as a template,” the former Mirage pilot added. India has in batches procured three squadrons of Mirage 2000 fighters from France.
The deal for 36 aircraft is valued at € 7.87 bn or about Rs. 1,630 crore per plane and it included the spares, weapons, maintenance and performance guarantee for five years.
Air Marshal M. Matheswaran, former Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, observed that the Rafale was an exceptional aircraft in a multirole capability but conceded that it was a relatively expensive aircraft. Of the € 7.87 bn, about € 1.7 bn alone has been earmarked for India-specific modifications, he stated.