After the surprise announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday on buying 36 Rafale fighters in a direct purchase from France, the original Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal now hangs fire. This deal, under which the Rafale acquisition is being negotiated, had a substantial ‘Make in India’ component, is now heading towards a ‘Made in France’ endeavour.
Speaking on the decision on Saturday, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said: “India has finally broken the ice over the deal which has been pending for the last 17 years.” He added that the Rafale fighters in fly-away condition would be inducted into the Air Force in two years.
Experts feel the decision was driven by operational necessities. Defence analyst Nitin Gokhale said: “It’s a decision born out of absolute operational necessity for the IAF and therefore, in a way, unavoidable. Under the circumstances it is the best beginning possible. Going by PM’s statement, under ‘Make in India’ Rafale could play a major role.”
While this does 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, Mr. 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.