Transparency on Rafale: the government owes the public the facts - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 13 September 2018

Transparency on Rafale: the government owes the public the facts

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard (editorial), 14th Sept 18

As the Opposition’s campaign against the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from France grows in pitch, the government’s response has not been open enough. That has encouraged the impression that it has something to hide. The Opposition has made a three-point case: First, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi enfeebled the Indian Air Force (IAF) by scuppering a 126-aircraft contract, which was close to finalisation, and instead purchased just 36 Rafales without following due procedure. Second, that the government allegedly paid a higher price in the new deal, without obtaining a qualitatively superior fighter. Finally, the Opposition has charged the government with killing the “Make in India” component of the 126-Rafale tender, instead accepting French-built fighters in “flyaway” condition that left little for Indian industry to contribute. The Opposition alleges that only France would benefit, along with some Indian corporates. 

Presumeably the government has all the facts, figures and rationale needed to address these allegations, yet it has failed to make them public. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who pledged last November to reveal what Dassault had bid in the cancelled tender and what India eventually paid, has said now in an interview to the Indian Express that the basic price of the French aircraft has been disclosed to Parliament and that the Air Force cannot absorb more than two squadrons in the given time because of infrastructure and other technical constraints. This raises fresh questions, as induction of the 36 aircraft is over five to six years from the contract signing. Meanwhile, the seniormost air force officers have taken up cudgels to defend the quality of the aircraft, which has never been the issue.

It can be nobody’s case that the government should divulge the confidential details of the Rafale’s operational capabilities. Nor can the government legitimately argue that every detail relating to the Rafale is confidential and putting anything out would endanger IAF pilots. The government has to explain the process and time line by which seven squadrons were reduced to two, since key government personnel seemed to have been unaware of the impending change when the prime minister went to France. It has to list the India-specific changes to the aircraft and itemised cost, especially since Dassault is on record that the plane is the same as the one negotiated earlier. It also has to give a break-up of the weapons suite which presumably was not in the original bid. Finally, it has to detail how the new maintenance commitments are different from the earlier ones. Like in all democracies, the government is duty-bound to account for the expenditure of public funds, and it would set a dangerous precedent to shirk that duty by citing national security. The French president, to whom the government turned to endorse its claim of confidentiality, obliged only half-heartedly, placing the onus on New Delhi to decide what was actually confidential.

If both the Opposition and the government reduce the Rafale procurement to a political blame-game, that would apply unwanted brakes on the procurement of urgently needed weaponry. To pre-empt being boxed into complete inctivity on defence, the government must defend the Rafale procurement boldly. It must put out whatever is needed to convince the public that this is a kosher deal for which a reasonable sum has been paid.


  1. Not sure the ask here. Are we expecting the Govt to reveal sensitive information and defence preparedness in the name of democratic right to information? If not then why ask details of India specific changes and weapons package? There should be a line drawn somewhere, even the opposition are mature individuals.

  2. Its a Shame as we become the Worlds sixth largest economy with the wherewithal to help millions - to see taxpayer money being used in a criminally irresponsible and dishonest
    This rot in the public finance has crept up on us since Independence, abetted by the bureaucracy.
    A British ICS officer was taught not to waste a single rupee of the public purse, a legacy left over from the commercial mindset of the E India company.
    Liquor in bottles in the drinks cupboard in Inspection Bungalows was very carefully measured to the millimetre and even the Governor if he came visiting was billed on departure no one was allowed to take advantage of the governments money.
    For most VIP entertainment, administrative officers had to contribute from their own pockets.
    This culture of accountability started from the basics and public money was spent in a judicious manner, after careful though and planning.
    Defence procurement is just one area where our democratic system has failed to hold to account our rulers, a free for all for years with all hands helping themselves from the till.
    Sections of the Press in India with their consistent questioning, like in this article is all that we have left. This thorn too will be removed if all good men do not come to the aid of our constitution and democracy.




  4. Govt owes public ghanta. Stop making an ass of yourself.

  5. NSR says ---

    Now that India has procured and paid hefty sums for India specific upgrades, it is about time to acquire additional 36 Rafales with some real and actual TOTs in the engines, radars, EW, avionics, etc

    36 is not enough to fight a two front war...India needs 72 with abundant amounts of Meteor and SCALP missiles...

    There should be no compromise on national security at all...
    S-400 and Meteor will checkmate Pakistan and China airforces…

    There is a parliamentary panel to talk about the high security issues...
    These issues must not be fodder for the elections...

  6. Shuklaji, I trust an Air Marshal's word over that of journalists and politician's. You should too.

  7. Why do you parrot the opposition agenda these days? Where is the independent streak of a journalist?
    You yourself are writing that the details of weapon system should not be revealed yet write that all details be explained to the public. How can the cost be explained without sharing specific details.
    Being an ex officer you should understand the classified nature of weapon systems better

  8. Dear Colonel,

    I agree with Ashish @ 0824. Your writing these days does smack of a political agenda, even if a subtle one. You might deny it but it is present to the extent it wasn't when UPA and UPA II were ruling the roost.

    I hope you suppress the urge to stage an acerbic comeback and introspect. Your writing has been sterling till date. One hopes to see that continue devoid of any political hues.

    Best regards,

  9. I am shocked at the insinuation from you Ajay. I understand if politicians say this, but coming from an ex-Army and a journalist was surprising. So are you saying that since opposition raised an issue the details should be revealed to public, the government owes it to us? Why only Rafale then? Why not the Nuclear Submarines, the aircraft carrier bought during the UPA tenure, why not Scorpene details, why not the RAW budgets, etc.? I want everyone of the deals from last 70 years to be revealed.
    Your bias is beginning to show, didn't expect it from you. There is a chinese saying, be careful of what you wish for, you might actually get it. The government might be forced to share the details during election years, but the damage will be irreparable considering the Rafales will be there for next 50 years.
    Unbelievable, I can't believe I am reading this in your blog!

  10. You are parroting political agenda here. There are parliamentary rules to allow for confidential briefing. These can be allowed too.
    For us IAF Marshall's words are good enough.
    Being ex officer surprising you don't trust senior unifofmed men. Shame actually.

    1. That's the whole point , I too agree with you

  11. Keep it up Col Shukla, these are imperfectly educated gentlemen who say you have a political leaning.
    You must continue to call power to account. During UPA you called them out too.
    I must tell you how much I enjoy your blog, and the different readers comments, it’s all very informative and sometimes entertaining.
    The articles factual and accurate help me to keep abreast of defence matters.
    For me a very apolitical person who abhors politicians I find you write from a neutral point of view without bias either way.
    I also like the fact instead of editing them you print comments which are critical of like those above.

  12. OMG the ratshakers (the lot from Bharat Rakshak) are here to just discredit Shukla ji.

    These ratshakers are nothing but NRI keyboard warriors who live in their cushy apartments a thousand miles away and comment about india. If they care so much they should live in India.

  13. While the Rafale is a competent aircraft, for India-it somehow very un-reasonably expensive for India. Someone has probably made a lot of money on this deal. Who it is is irrelevant and given what happened in BOFORS or AW-101 helicopter deal, there is little chance that the person who stole the money will be identified.

    The fact remains USD 8+ Billion were spent to buy 36 planes, i.e. USD 220 MM/aircraft, when the fly-away cost of the Rafale was USD 91 MM in 2016. You cannot balloon the cost from 91 MM to 220 MM by baloney like "India specific enhancements". What kind of "India specific enhancements" can increase cost so much when the air-frame, radar, engine all stay the same? If i am not mistaken, the only enhancements were Israeli helmet mounted sighting system and some other minor enhancements. Indian Air Force has already made a nearly US 1 Billion purchase of missiles along with Mirage-2000 upgrade and same missiles will work with Rafale.

    Even if you compare purchase prices of Egypt, Qatar and India purchases of Rafale, the Indian cost is highest. Why? Qatar is also getting full missile component.

    Infact "India specific enhancements". might even mean bribing Indian politicians for all i care...

  14. 126 rafales could have been purchased and then upgraded to our 2020 year requirements.

    Why did we not split the

    order with rafale and euro typhoon.

    They WOULD have given 20-30% discount if we had removed HAL PRODUCTION CONDITIONALITY ??


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