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Rafale Deal: How the Air Force Squandered a Procurement Opportunity
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Siddhartha Srivastava | Date:18 May , 2016 10 Comments
Siddhartha Srivastava
is a strategy consultant based in Cleveland, USA. He has been part of aviation industry for long. He has Masters in Mechanical Engineer, with an MBA from INSEAD, France.


“War is too important to be left to the Generals,” said former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. However, Indian security planners have for long allowed the IAF’s rhetoric of wanting the “best combat jet” to remain unchallenged. India is paying dearly, both in money and in defence preparedness for such dereliction of duty.

The country’s most expensive defence deal in its history will neither lead to a transfer of technology and local manufacturing nor will IAF acquire the required number of jets to enhance the country’s defence.

Ironically, despite the obvious deficiencies India cannot walk away from the deal. This is because we need the jets to make up for numbers badly!

That IAF was losing combat jets to ageing was always known. IAF’s squadron strength is expected to get to 25 in next six years against a sanctioned strength of 42. That is a shortfall of about 200 jets.

The MMRCA tender which was supposed to make up for this gap was a badly designed tender from the get-go. With insipid political leadership at the helm, IAF came to dominate the process.  A holistic approach to defence procurement was the first casualty.

Commercial acumen to keep several bidders competing until price negotiations are concluded was discarded. The IAF’s singular concern was to procure their favourite aircraft.

Instead of setting performance requirements in view of prevailing threats the IAF went for the gold-plated version. The rhetoric of getting the “best plane” got the better of realpolitik. The IAF narrowed down the entire process to a single criterion of best performance.

The approach was similar to a family deciding to buy the best car in the market and checking their bank balance after selecting the Rolls Royce. Fascination with technology reached levels where battle-hardened platforms like the F18 were not good enough for the IAF. Neither was the Eurofighter, which is the primary fighter of several NATO and European Air Forces like Germany and the UK, good enough.

Of all the competing platforms the Rafale was developed last, a good decade after Eurofighter, so it’s not surprising that the Rafale has the latest technology. It’s no wonder that the Rafale won the tender.

The IAF remained unchallenged in selecting Rafale and no second or third winner was announced. The French buoyed by their monopoly promptly withdraw the prior commitments to manufacture in India citing warranty issues. The price now escalated to a point where the plane became unaffordable. The new government rightly cancelled the tender. However, to placate the IAF a compromise purchase of 36 jets was announced.

But the landscape has changed completely. While the MMRCA tender lumbered through the byzantine decision-making process in India, the Rafale won orders from Qatar and Egypt. Dassault’s, the company which produces the Rafale jets, production lines are running at capacity to fulfill these orders. While this deal is urgent for India, the French are in no hurry.

The 126 jets in the original MMRCA tender were expected to cost around $12 billion. But today the smaller 36 jets order alone is expected to cost $7- 8 billion. The price has more than doubled. India seems to hold no cards in the face of hard-nosed French negotiations.

Despite the noblest of intentions, IAF’s objective of getting the best jets for its fleet has not bolstered India’s security. If anything the entire process has caused a massive deterioration in India’s defence preparedness. Hopefully, some lessons have been learnt.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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10 thoughts on “Rafale Deal: How the Air Force Squandered a Procurement Opportunity

  1. This is what will happen when people become greedy. IAF was not like this when they fought 1965 and 1971 war. They were not demanding type. UAP spoiled every Government departments. India gained very good experience from 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. So our requirements should be based on 1971. India fought against Pakistan on two fronts. (East and West) . In 1971 war IAF had only 34 effective squadrons, each of which consisted of 12 planes . IAF had 16 aircraft per combat squadron but the effective availability during the 1971 war was 12 per squadron. So in 1971 IAF had 408 effective planes. Now IAF has got more planes than 1971 war excluding Mig. 21. These planes are far superior to Gnat and Mig-21. Now we have to fight against Pakistan only on the Western Front. All fighter planes can conduct sorties alone with the help of AWACs or GPS. An intent was placed for 126 fighter planes to replace Mig 21 about five to six years back as the Tejas development was delayed due to IAF. Now Tejas are getting ready and its cost is only Rs. 250 crore. Indian Govt will not be able to justify the cos of Rafale plane. It is only a 4th generation fighter plane. Gulf countries have enough money to purchase Rafale planes. but India is a poor country. Now Egypt and Sri Lanka have shown interest to purchase Tejas. That means they have very much impressed with the performance of Tejas. So IAF has to satisfy with Tejas. Why should India go in for Rafale plane? Missiles will replace the fighter planes. We have very good missiles. So usage of fighter planes very well come down over a period of time.

    • In ten years’ time India will have a good Tejas but India is not in a position to fill the position to do that now because it is short on Aircrafts for the IAF. It need to fill the gap it needs uptodate Aircraft with Russian of French Aircrafts.

  2. An article so completely flawed…both factually and analytically. Two fighters were narrowed down as having met the GSQR’s, it was the MoD’s call to continue with two vendors till the negotiations were concluded but they came out with all guns blazing saying “Dassault is the winner”. Second , the IAF had simply one straight forward mandate in a weapons and equipment trial and that is to select the aircraft closest to the GSQR’s and it did hat brilliantly with two Aircraft selected! However the brilliant author of this article now speaks with ‘Rare Hindsight

      • I do not agree with your views. IAF officers have joined hand with UPA Govt to purchase Western equipment as they are ready to give commission to officials to clinch any deal. It has become a habit for IAF to prepare a speciation to favor one company during UPA period . The same thing happened in the Rafale case. They took the specification prepared 12 years back for Su-30 MKI. for fighter plane operated by two pilots. At that fighter plane operated by two pilots was necessary as there was no AWACs and the IAf pilots faced problem during 1971 war due to frequent wireless communication failures between front gunner and rear gunner. This Russian plane was not purchased as a replacement. When IAF generated a demand for 126 fighter plane , it was meant for the replacement of Mig-21. India took a decision in 2003 to go in for AWACs. It is evident that IAF prepared the specification for a plane operated by two pilots to bypass Saab JAS 39 Gripen and many other planes. A few greedy officers in the IAF spoiled the reputation of the organization .

  3. Grossly inaccurate analysis just to condemn IAF. Looks like author is proving his loyalty to the US. For example , he wrote `It’s no wonder that the Rafale won the tender. The IAF remained unchallenged in selecting Rafale and no second or third winner was announced.`. Clearly he had not followed the deal at all. IAF had selected both Rafale & Eurofighter. Rafale was lowest bidder L1, so MoD started negotiating with the French. MoD still had the option to go for Eurofighter but Govt decided to cancel the tender.

    And why IAF should go for so called `battle hardened` F18. it was developed during 80s, good thirty years ago. If IAF were to select a plane based on such assumptions, Mig 31 was not bad choice then. Or a lighter version of Sukhoi.

    IAF judged every aircraft on 600 parameters, it was not that IAF wanted the best aircraft to stay unchallenged. Just like USAF does in the US, any good air force in the world always set some parameters & the judge air crafts on those parameters. F16 & F18 failed where as Rafale & Eurofighters passed. Why is it so difficult for him to digest.

    He is right by saying that cost has increased astronomically due to inflation & long time period and hence a show stopper. But had we gone for all 126 planes (with option to place follow up order of a total of 196 planes), we wud have got ToT as well.

    And I think he does not even know about 50% offset clause that MoD had incorporated in the contract, which is far more than what Indian industrial base can consume smoothly. The French wanted that they shud not be held responsible for delay in ToT and plane manufacturing in India and they shud not be made to pay for the same.


    • Why did the IAF prepare a specification for fighter planes operated by two pilots? It is only to bypass Swedish Gripen. When SU-30 MkI was purchased India did not have AWACs. So it is justified. because IAF need not use two planes ( front gunner and rear gunner) while performing sorties. Now we have AWACs. Swedish Gripen is the most suitable fighter plane to replace Mig 21. A few years back it was the cheapest Aircraft after JF-17 Thunder. Fighter plane operated by two pilots will increase the operating cost and shortage of pilots during the war. Not only that it will increase pilot casualty.
      Please read this article:-“The Indian Air Force’s Big Problem: Not Enough Pilots!”






    capt ajit vadakayil

  5. Innacuraracies galore! The reason Rafale deal fell apart was govt’s insistence on HAL being tbe lead integrator which Dassault did not trust with timeliness and quality issues and therefore refused to take rexponsibility for. They wanted a private company like Reliance.

    • At the post by capt vadakayil. Ur input about comparing the two aircraft is as impulsive, passion driven and devoid of any meaningful analysis as the original post which is nothing but the reflection of F18 manufactures desperation and frustration over being rejected for a much better aircraft

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