Rafale in storm clouds, Parrikar says IAF can make do with Sukhoi-30s - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 31 December 2014

Rafale in storm clouds, Parrikar says IAF can make do with Sukhoi-30s

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Jan 2015

For the first time since January 31, 2012, when the French Rafale fighter was chosen as the future medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF), a top Indian official has admitted serious problems in negotiating the purchase with French vendor, Dassault.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday evening, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said there were “complications” in the negotiations that have already dragged on for almost three years, with the French side reluctant to meet commitments that the IAF had specified in the tender.

Parrikar did not reveal details. Business Standard has reported earlier on Dassault’s unwillingness to assume responsibility for the production of Rafales by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which the tender mandated. HAL is to build 108 Rafales in India with technology transferred from Dassault and its sub-vendors.

Ominously for Dassault, Parrikar said that additional Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, which HAL builds in Nashik, were adequate for the IAF in case it was decided not to procure the Rafale.

The IAF currently plans to have 272 Su-30MKI fighters by about 2018. HAL’s Nashik production line is building the fighter at Rs 358 crore each, less than half the estimated cost of buying the Rafale.

“The Su-30MKI is an adequate aircraft for meeting the air force’s needs”, said Parrikar.

Earlier this month, Parrikar had assured his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, during the latter’s visit to New Delhi on December 1, that Rafale negotiations would be placed on a “fast track”, according to MoD officials.

The defence minister revealed on Tuesday that the French defence minister “has (committed) to send an empowered person to negotiate after New Year.”

According to the terms of the MMRCA tender, 18 of the 126 fighters being bought would be supplied fully built abroad, with the remaining 108 manufactured by HAL. The cost of the project, originally sanctioned at Rs 42,000 crore, has now crossed Rs 100,000 crore, according to expert estimates.

Border infrastructure

Signalling a major thrust on building roads along the 4,057-kilometre Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, the defence minister announced that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which has been plagued by infighting between its civil and military personnel, would come directly under the MoD.

“BRO is being delinked from the Ministry of Surface Transport. It will be entirely defence controlled and defence financed. We are (also) considering transferring of more than 6,000-7,000 kilometres of roads, which are not in sensitive areas, to the National Highways (Authority of India)”, said Parrikar.

Weighing in against the principle of “dual command”, the defence minister said: “Ministry of Surface Transport was their (BRO’s) administrative department and defence was their [operational department]. So obviously there was confusion, when you have two masters, you don’t get work output.”

Parrikar confirmed that the proposal had been discussed with Minister for Surface Transport, Nitin Gadkari, and both had agreed that, from the next budget onwards, BRO would come under the MoD.

The BRO was charged with building 61 Indo-China Border Roads (ICBRs), of total length 3410 kilometres, by 2012.  Of these, it has completed only 17 roads, of length 590 kilometres, the defence minister told parliament on December 12.

Parrikar explained that high technology, especially the practice of tunnelling with rock boring machines, was essential for building roads in difficult terrain, for which the private sector needed to be involved. “The way it is being cut today, I don’t think we will complete (our target) even in 15 years. If the target is 5 years, we will have to use technology”, he said.

The defence minister also revealed that he was working with the railways minister, Suresh Prabhu, to expand rail connectivity across Arunachal Pradesh. “We have decided to improve the railway connectivity as well as the road connectivity. We will finalise things in the days ahead”, he said.

The defence minister told parliament on December 12 that four strategic railway lines have been prioritised for survey.

Arms agents permitted

Parrikar reiterated his intention to permit foreign arms companies to station “representatives or technical consultants” in India, reversing a ban on “agents” that had been imposed after the Bofors gun scandal of 1987-88. This had been reported earlier by Business Standard (December 13, “Parrikar likely to allow arms agents, impose steep fines for wrongdoing”).

The defence minister downplayed reports of increased Pakistani firing on the Line of Control (LoC), stating, “Across the LoC, (firing) incidents have reduced during 2014. There were increasing incidents on the International Border, but they have also fallen during the last two months compared to this time last year.”

Even so, Parrikar emphasised the army’s muscular posture, saying his orders were” “Don’t hesitate; react appropriately and without holding yourself back. We don’t (start firing). But if there is something going on from the other side we retaliate with double the energy.”



  1. Putting BRO under MOD is a good decision. We don't have the technology to drill the rocks, I wonder why the previous defence Minister's hasn't taken any action on this important issue. Good decision on involving private companies on this. But permitting Arms agents is not a good decision. Also I hope Dassault accepts taking responsibly for the aircrafts manufactured in India, by HAL and we get the Rafale in F3R standard. Rafale is the best and the most capable aircraft in the World flying today and it is coming to us with vital TOT. Also SU30mki's opeartional readiness and high maintenance needs to be taken into account. Also we need a good ground attack aircraft with nuclear capability and Rafale the best. So it is a good buy.


  3. It would be interesting to know if the SU 30 MKI is really an Ideal replacement for a medium class multi role fighter.

    1. Technically it can do the same tasks, but will its maintenance and upkeep allow for use en Masse. Are new rookie average pilots able to fly the air craft with greater ease ? Or is it an aircraft which needs more training. Will IAF have enough Pilots considering 2 are required per aircraft. What about Post flight maintenance and consumption of spare parts, availability of capable air fields, fuel etc.

    2. Operationally, The Sukhoi 30 is like a lion on an offensive charge. Stealth is the least of its concern when it takes off its does so with the intention to intercept, interdict and clear out the air space of enemy air. Every enemy aircraft knows its coming and can either disengage or die.

    But smaller fighters have smaller radar cross section sections, which the Sukhoi does not. They can fly slow and low and can carry out deep penetration air strikes all while evading SAM threats and Ground Radar.

    Using an aircraft Like Sukhoi 30 for such tasks would be like using a samurai sword in a butchery. Also, such operation may be intensified which would need shorter repair and tune up time.

    It looks like a MRCA is needed. However, do we need to have a Rafale as a replacement, will Rs 100,000 crore not be better spent developing the Stealth AMCA ?

    Also, to plug immediate requirements would the LCA MK 2 be capable of taking on an interim role ?

    LCA Mk 1 combat Radius is not ideal.

  4. 1. The delays in Rafale deal are a concern. I am not convinced that a mix of Su-30 and Tejas will be sufficient for counter-attacks on enemy installations. And as far as AMCA is concerned, its prototype is yet to fly. So there is the prospect of a gap in the AF's capability IMO...
    2. Border infrastructure has been delayed for too long. But its good to see that steps have been taken to atleast correct the beureaucratic part of the problem.
    3. The signs that this government has been giving seem to be promising. The changes in blacklisting policy, recent purchase of sonars, artillery seems to indicate that this time round the import of equipment is being done in a more efficient manner.

    Could I suggest to the author ( @broadsword ) to analyse the policies and procurement in the last six months? It could be interesting IMO...

  5. The inter-ministerial decision to handover BRO to MoD is a gem. Great to see ministries in the Modi govt actually working together on this vital area.

    Will be interesting to see if the Sukhoi poser works as a negotiating tactic with the French. Did the RM also have any words for Tejas under this plan?

    JLP's comments raise interesting questions - any word from your sources in Air Force planning on actually implementing this approach would be welcome.

  6. The inter-ministerial decision to handover BRO to MoD is a gem. Great to see ministries in the Modi govt actually working together on this vital area.

    Will be interesting to see if the Sukhoi poser works as a negotiating tactic with the French. Did the RM also have any words for Tejas under this plan?

    JLP's comments raise interesting questions - any word from your sources in Air Force planning on actually implementing this approach would be welcome.

  7. The Defense Ministry must be closed now for if the Defense Minister does not understand the need of the forces it has no rights to be functional.

  8. NSR says ----

    Picked the following excerpt from Calcutta Telegraph...

    """""HAL would have a work-share arrangement with other public and private firms, and would assemble the aircraft largely from partly and semi-knocked down kits to be supplied by Dassault."""""

    The price and technology transfer part of this contract is not worth a paisa to Indian desire to get the technology transferred to become self-reliant...

    Pay additional money to Russia to get complete technology and build a separate production line and manufacture every thing in SU-30MKI and Mig-29K in India...

    This will not only will bring the numbers up quickly but also will create technology and design capabilities for future...In addition, without technology transfer and frequent upgrades, these Russian fighters will soon become flying coffins too...So go ahead and bargain hard with Russians...

    In the meantime, get on war footing w.r.t. Tejas I & II and AMCA...That is the only solution for India...Tejas I turning out pretty well...

  9. Better save money for mrca..and use it to bolster sukhoi availability like in ur previous articles....and use rest for Tejas mk2 and amca...Lspk

  10. Colonel,

    Can you please explain about the license fee which OEM's take from the local producers?

    For example, how much HAL pays out of Rs 358 Crore to Sukhoi Corp?

    And what happens after long term production? For example, how much does HAL pay for Dornier 228 to RUAG? Or How much does it pay for Hawk AJT to BAE?

    Your readers would have a better understanding if they could understand the financial part of the license manufacture. As they say, always follow the money to know the truth.


  11. the iaf is down to 25 operational squadrons and we are rapidly loosing airsuperiorty over our hostile neighbours.the def.minister has to take a decision at the earliest. will it be sensible to put all eggs in one basket? the entire sukhoi fleet was grounded recently. the govt should opt for a smaller no. of rafales and some more flankers rather than spending double the amount on the french fighter in 126 nos..lca is nearing induction and it should take mmrcas place if rafale deal doesnt go through

  12. France is not a world player. By giving a 20 billion dollar deal what India is going to get politically. So there needs to be a compelling reason for France to reject the deal. BJP wants this deal to be scrapped and go to the US in return for a security council seat. Off course this will have bearing on Indo-US strategic partnership.

    1. France is one of the most reliant and one in the top 5 nations who are called World players, a permanent member in UNO, complete self reliance in defence technology. More than that France and Russia are the only two countries that had walked away from the technological ban imposed on India by USA, they came out of that meet. Many forget that, it is the most important reason why major defence deals are given only to these 2 nations by India. Both these countries will give vital TOT. All USA does is strip us down our money and talent and again impose a ban on the same people. Don't believe them for one second. Forget TOT if we are going with USA. Always we will only be a importer depending on USA like a slave.

    2. We need to start afresh with US. Nothing is written on stone. Seeing the pivot of US towards Asia Pacific India has to take advantage of it. LCA is flying on GE engines, P8I, CJ 130, C 17 Hercules, Apache, Chinook , Sikorsky helicopter are in the pipe line. Obama coming as chief guest for Republic day is by no means a insignificant issue. It ushers a change in the thought process. It started with Bush and continues with a democrat president. Hope you get the bigger picture.

    3. The reason USA looks towards India is only because of thousands of companies from KFC to Monsanto are expecting to improve their sales by 10 times in the coming years because of growing population and India being a developing nation.
      Regarding Obama coming as chief guest, please look at our relationship with USA before that Technology ban. C17, C130j, GE engines, Apache, Chinook, ok., from all these deals how much TOT has been given by USA to India. What is good at being a buyer only? USA will never do TOT.
      Also Fa18 super hornet failed in our technical evaluation trials. F-35 will be expensive, its operational availabilty is very very low currently and it costs 31000$ per hour to maintain it. It is not a good aircraft by any means, in current version and its hugely costly to maintain for India. Even we leave all that behind, F-35 will not be available to USA before 2020, so what about the remaining NATO countries, so when will India get it 2030. Its better to wait till F-35 gets matured and then India could buy it after 2030 for navy if they at least give permission to use all their goodies without signing CISMOA and other agreements.

  13. Will we be able to start production of Rafale through TOT anytime soon ? What purpose will it serve when we can only start making them inhouse by the time russian FGFA is ready ?Also, there is question mark over capability of HAL wrt technology absorption. It make more sense to invest in FGFA, LCA Mk2 and AMCA than spending these huge amount on the Rafale

  14. This indeed sounds like the end of the Rafale deal. Unfortunately the IAF is going to be stuck with the su 30mki and it's old technology. Plus becoming even more dependent on the Russians at their terms. The on going situation between the west and Russia will make it difficult to integrate newer western avionics in the future.
    Besides this is an opportunity lost to reform indian procurement and HAL by staying on this line of Dassault being responsible for HAL production. I'm surprised nobody has pointed out that insisting on that just shows the bancruptcy and failure of MOD's policies and incapacity in managing its DPSUs in particular HAL. Besides what leverage is the MOD proposing to tbe OEMs to take up this absurd condition?
    As usual wastage and lost opportunities rule.....

  15. To an anonymous @12:03
    Well scrapping of this deal will lead to augmenting Su30Mki . Sanctions are already put on Russian by western democracies so explain how economic benfection of Russia will be palatable by US . Beside who told you BJP is against any deal per se....did PM tweeted this ? Also UNSC reforms are not US controlled there are P5 countries including China . So are you really so naive to believe that Chinks won't Veto inclusion of India?

  16. Dear All,

    As we all know the Rafale is an excellent fighter jet but when you compare it to the SU 30-35 it might become a difficult choice considering the bill. At 30 billion the defense minister could comfortably tackle shortages of all three departments not only the air force.
    Although I would love to see the Rafale come, but it would be sensible to give it a skip. We could rather develop the Tejas MK 2 and order 100 of each the Mk1 and the Mk2 and another 75 Sukhoi 30mki.
    I makes sense to also short list a 5th gen fighter at the earliest.

    $30 Billion

    1. 2.5 Bliion - 814 Mounted Guns
    2. 800 million - 400 Dhanush Guns
    3. 200 million - 400 Pinakas
    4. 300 million - M46 gun upgrade
    5. 300 million - 100 K9 howitzers
    6. 3.5 Billion - 100 Tejas MK1
    7. 5.5 Billion - 100 Sukhois MK1 30
    8. 2.0 Billion - 16 Light Corvettes
    9. 2.5 Billion - 4 LHC (Juan Carlos)
    10. 1.0 Billion - Jaguar Upgrades
    11. 4.0 Billion - All Helicopters
    12. 8.0 Billion - 6 New Subs
    13. 1.0 Billion - 1 more Akula Sub
    14. 2.0 Billion - INS Vishal

    All the above comes to $33 Billion, this fits the bill not just 126 Rafales, without any gurantees or meaningful tech transfer.

  17. If we are getting Super Su-30MKI that will be a wise move along with some more Mirage that could be upgraded to the latest will serve good for next 15 years or more till the time AMCA and FGFA are available is a good alternative if both AMCA and FGFA is getting delivered by then as the Chinense and Porkis are gerring better planes as we speak or we can very well say good bye to the air arms edge

  18. As formidable as the Rafale is, it is by no means a substantial improvement in capability over the Su-30MKI. That was a question that always baffled me. Having a larger common fleet of Sukhois makes much more sense in terms of logistics, inventory management and training.
    It would even have made sense to go in for a cheaper and modern fighter like the Gripen NG in larger numbers to make up the shortage in the fastest time frame.
    Even the F-16 Viper or Super Hornet would have been more practical financially and operationally. Over reliance on the US may have been an overriding factor but at least the Americans can be relied on to stick to timelines and for product support.
    Finally some pragmatism seems to coming into defence procurement with the entry of Mr Parrikar. The Avro replacement is another issue which has seen positive intervention from the MoD. Now only if it extends to basics such as a reliable INSAS for the Army, force restructuring and infrastructure buildup. And oh, 'minor' issues like OROP.

  19. Comparing Su30mki with Rafale is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are good aircrafts but fits different roles. SU30mki is a Air superiority and defender. It can prevent enemy aircraft, with a straight dogfight. Rafale is an excellent offensive aircraft, it helps to enter enemy space on the first few days of war, because of its Spectra and other goodies. It can get very close to the ground and neutralize some enemy strong holds. It can fit in the role of a stealth bomber. It doesn't have as much maintenance issues like SU30mki. Its operational availability is also good. Even the Eurofighter Typhoon was not used in the libyan war in the first few days. Rafale was the only aircraft which dared to enter Libyan space initially. It performed exceptionally in real time war situation. And gripen is no equal to Rafale or Typhoon. It failed in lot of evaluations in may countries including ours. Numbers cannot equal performance.
    LCA TejasMk1 is yet it o get foc. Its performance will not be better than a Mig 27. Its avionics will be better. Tejas Mk2 may perform very close to gripen, surely not better. Any aircraft needs real time experience to attain maturity. AMCA is still in design phase. Both AMCA and Tejas mk2 needs Rafale's TOT.
    Another thing, we are not paying $30 billion for Rafale aircraft, as only 18 are manufactured in France, remaining will be manufactured in HAL under TOT. So a clarification is needed on how much money is actually going to France and how much for HAL. Also most of the money is for TOT only and not for the actual aircraft. Also as per the clause 50% of the money Dassault gets will be invested back into India. We are losing much larger amount on corruption, where as we are think too much when it comes to defence and space, especially with volatile countries ready to fight us anytime.

  20. Having larger fleets of Su 30 complimented with Tejas is a great idea. Imagine saving 100000 crores!! less than 50 % of that can boost IAF squadron strength to near required levels. Finding the right mix of weaponry is a lot more complex that just meeting ASRs drafted in blinkered fashion. The fact that the IAF was caught with their pants down on the Avro replacement faux pas is a glaring case in point. On another note the in the current overall situation that the country now is in, it will not be a bad idea to revive older proven airframes like the Avro and Canberra and redesign them with Indian 'jugad' to perform a variety of roles in the most cost effective manner.


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