As a fighter pilot with long experience, do you think Rafale fully meets India’s operational requirements?
I had the opportunity to fly the F-16 in the US, Gripen in Sweden and Eurofighter in the UK during official visits to these countries as chief of air staff. I also flew the Rafale in India during ‘Exercise Garuda’ with the French air force. These fighter aircraft are very impressive in their performance, equipped with state-of-the-art systems and weapons to execute operational tasks. It is difficult to choose one from the other and only experts can evaluate their capabilities against well-formulated specifications.
Rafale is a multi-role aircraft which can fully meet IAF’s operational requirements in the configuration that has been ordered. It is one of the best aircraft in the world in its class and was selected after a very competitive bidding process and due diligence. India has been able to obtain many add-ons that will substantially enhance combat capability of the aircraft and provide the IAF with technological and combat edge.
Government has claimed that the deal for 36 Rafales is superior in terms of weapons suite and other capabilities than the one negotiated earlier. Do you agree?
The contract for 36 Rafales includes weapons suite much superior to the earlier case and to many contemporary fighters. The weapons suite includes Meteor and variants of MICA (a weapons system) beyond visual range missiles. Considering national security requirements, higher capability of Rafale aircraft ordered now is more apt for IAF.
How do the Rafales for India compare with aircraft supplied to French air force or other air forces?
The Rafales for IAF will have several India specific enhancements, which are not present in Rafales operated by other countries. These capabilities pertain to enhancements in radar performance, advanced electronic warfare suite and ability to operate from high altitude airfields – unique to our terrain and climatic conditions.
There are allegations of violations of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)? Can you tell us about this intergovernmental agreement (IGA)?
DPP clearly allows procurements under IGA from friendly foreign countries and many procurements have been through IGA. Rules require cabinet approval before entering into agreement. The procurement process in MoD (ministry of defence) is well established and all the details are documented. I am aware that due approvals were taken in this case too and the IGA was signed only after approval of the CCS (cabinet committee on security).
It has been alleged that the agreement to procure 36 Rafales has caused loss to the exchequer.
The most important task of the price negotiation committee (PNC), which is a multi-disciplinary body of professionals with domain expertise, was to achieve a final price which had to be better than the previous Dassault Aviation proposal. A very detailed study was conducted and the PNC bargained hard. Cost comparisons are very complex and these have to be compared at the same datum. Most of the misconception on costs has resulted from comparing them with different base years, as also not having taken into consideration the significant differences in the deliverables. The current procurement costs in the IGA are better than the previous proposal. There were upfront cost reductions, and the IGA catered for better maintenance and weapons package.
Government has been accused of promoting the interests of an industrial group. How did Reliance ADAG come to be associated with the procurement?
The IGA was signed between two sovereign governments and no private individual, firm or entity was involved in the process from the Indian side.
Could another vendor have been brought in to ensure a competitive environment for price discovery and cost negotiation?
In the original MMRCA proposal, MoD had gone through a very competitive bidding and selection process. MoD used the available data on prices and other variables to conclude an agreement in the form of an IGA for the same aircraft. This was perhaps the best way to address the immediate critical shortages of IAF though it fell well short of our requirements.
Can you tell us how the deal marks an improvement, besides price, over what was being earlier negotiated?
First, all 36 aircraft will be delivered in flyaway condition, as against 18, in a shorter timeframe. Second, advanced training to both air crew and ground crew will be conducted over and above the original offer. Third, enhanced period of industrial support for maintenance of the fleet has been catered for. Fourth, the performance-based logistics covers two squadrons instead of one and the period could be extended to 12 years. Fifth, the contract caters for complete maintenance facilities at two independent locations, taking care of various theatres of operations.