While the decision to buy 36 Rafale aircraft in fly-away condition address the immediate concerns of the Air Force, the surprising part of the announcement is the timing since the deal was on the verge of collapse. Just last month, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had reiterated that France had to adhere to tender norms. He had also said that if the deal was to fall through, India would buy additional Sukhois. Officials, however, indicated that there was potentially a larger “Make in India” component to the direct purchase by inviting Dassault to partner with an Indian private entity and build more Rafales in
India. Some see this decision as an acknowledgement that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is not capable of producing an advanced aircraft and irrespective of what is said, the fact remains that no private player in India has the capability to execute such a sophisticated project. Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said the two key areas of the strategic partnership with France are defence and nuclear energy and “Mr. Modi wanted this visit to produce something concrete
and substantial for the strategic partnership.” With two squadrons of Rafales, the Air Force would still require many more to arrest the dwindling fighter strength, which stands at 34 squadrons from the sanctioned 42. Officials said induction of Light Combat Aircraft MK II would be accelerated to meet the shortage while inducting more Sukhois was also an option. Brazil too had reached a similar agreement with France for 36 Rafale aircraft for $8 billion; this was cancelled last year.