Monday, April 8, 2013

Hello Rafale, how’s it going?

India’s mammoth MMRCA [Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft] deal estimated to be worth variously — and at least worth $16 billion — seems to be a jinxed project. 
This was a tender where the Russian bid was unceremoniously thrown out by the Indians right at the outset. And, whereas the Americans were cocksure their F-16 aircraft would win hands down in the post-nuclear deal ambience in the US-India strategic partnership, they got rejected just like that by the Indians and the shell-shocked ambassador in Delhi quit his job in disgust. 
And, this was a tender that to my mind the Eurofighter should, perhaps, have won on merit, but Rafale finally did to my utter surprise. 
Now when things were looking brilliant for Rafale with the Indian External Affairs Minister even travelling to Paris to tell the maker of Rafale, Dassault, an alluring proposition that Delhi might jack up the original order and buy another five dozen aircraft more than the 126 envisaged earlier, things nosedived. 
Dassault has picked up a quarrel with the Indian buyer that it can supply 18 aircraft alright on ‘fly-away’ basis but is rather diffident about co-production of the remaining 108 aircraft with its designated Indian partner, the state-owned HAL [Hindustan Aeronautics Limited]. 
The reason? Dassault says HAL is incompetent to handle a sophisticated job like making Rafale. So, Rafale can fly in, but Rafale can’t be made on Indian soil, as the Indian tender demanded. 
Maybe, Dassault has a point regarding HAL’s credibility. But, how come Dassault makes the plea at this very late stage? Dassault apparently claims it didn’t check out HAL’s capacity before submitting the offer to build Rafale in India. 
Now, does it sound credible? To me it stretches credulity by a yard. Hmm. Something is wrong somewhere. Dassault would know that the Indians are stuck with Rafale anyway and could this be bazaar tactic? Air Chief Marshal N A K Brown said only very recently that the MMRCA project is of the “highest priority.” 
However, there is always an exit route in such seemingly desperate situations. For instance, Dassault has formed a joint venture with the powerful Indian corporate house Reliance. Will HAL move over and make way for Reliance? 
This could be THE practical solution that Dassault is seeking. Of course, the only catch is that Reliance has no previous military production experience. But then, does it really matter? 
To begin with, Reliance can always execute the MMRCA deal by supplying Rafale made in France by its partner Dassault and then by and by it can learn to make on Indian soil something that comes to resemble Rafale. Howzaat? 
Dassault would have known that the UPA government’s new procurement policy would allow that, Or else, can’t the policy be ‘tweaked’, as the Americans would say?  
After all, Dassault can claim that the UPA government’s new thinking is to give encouragement to India’s corporate houses to take to indigenous arms manufacturing, which it believes is by far the best means of putting an end to the never-ending stream of scams that unfailingly accompany India’s arms procurement deals with foreign companies. Indeed, the best option under the circumstances would be to “aggressively indigenise” our scams. 
By M K Bhadrakumar


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