MoD clears Rafale Marine fighters, submarine deal ahead of Modi’s arrival in Paris - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 13 July 2023

MoD clears Rafale Marine fighters, submarine deal ahead of Modi’s arrival in Paris

Super Hornet (above) knocked out of contention. Sanctions for three more Scorpenes received, adding to six already built


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 14 July 23


With Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi embarking on Thursday from Delhi for a two-day visit to France and the United Arab Emirates, his ministry of defence (MoD) cleared three important proposals for the capital acquisition of high-technology defence equiment.


“A meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), held under the chairmanship of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, approved three proposals on July 13, 2023 (Thursday),” announced the MoD in New Delhi.


Rafale Marine fighters

“The DAC granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for procurement of 26 Rafale Marine aircraft along with ancillary equipment, weapons, simulators, spares, documentation, crew training and logistic support for the Indian Navy from the French government based on an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA),” said the MoD.


This amounts to the navy selecting the Rafale Marine in its tender for 26 multi-role carrier-based fighters (MRCBFs), for which a request for information (RFI) had been sent to two vendors: Dassault for the Rafale Marine and Boeing for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.


By choosing the Rafale Marine, the Navy has ruled out having its twin-seat trainer version flying off a carrier, since the twin-seat Rafale Marine does not operate off an aircraft carrier. Of the 26 MRCBFs being bought in Paris today, eight twin-seaters will not be capable of combat operations off a carrier. They will be available for training pilots ashore, but not for combat missions flown from the carrier deck. 


This restriction would not be there for the Super Hornets. All of them – single seat as well as twin-seat versions – are capable of flying combat missions from the navy’s aircraft carriers.


Furthermore, the procurement of Super Hornets for the role of MRCBFs would ensure a high degree of inter-operability between the aircraft carrier, the on-board Super Hornets, and several other platforms that the Indian military has bought, or is buying. 


These platforms include the F/A-18F Growler electronic warfare aircraft, shipborne MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, P-8I Poseidon long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft and the Sea Guardian long range drones. They are used to working together after years of coordination in exercises like Malabar.


In 2015, in remarkably similar circumstances, the PM bought 36 Rafale aircraft through an IGA between Paris and New Delhi. The 2015 IGA led to the signing a year later of a Euro 7.8 billion contract for delivering 36 Rafale fighters over three years.


“The price and other terms of purchase will be negotiated with the French Government after taking into account all relevant aspects, including comparative procurement price of similar aircraft by other countries,” said the Indian MoD.


The 2016 Rafale contract catered for special features – termed “India Specific Equipment” – to be fitted onto the 36 Rafales that India bought. These features were developed by the Rafales’ two original equipment manufacturers (OEMs): French companies, Dassault and Thales.


The India Specific Equipment is also being fitted into the Rafale Marine fighters being bought. The MoD announcement says: “Further, integration of Indian designed equipment and establishment of maintenance, repair & operations (MRO) hub for various systems will be incorporated into the contract documents after due negotiations. 


Three more Scorpene submarines


In an unexpected announcement, the DAC also granted an AoN for the construction by Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) of three additional Scorpene submarines under the Buy (Indian) category.


“The procurement of (three) additional submarines, with higher indigenous content, will not only help in maintaining required force level and operational readiness of the Indian Navy, but also create significant employment opportunities in the domestic sector. It will also help the MDL in further enhancing its capability and expertise in submarine construction,” stated the MoD.


MDL is already completing the construction of six Scorpene submarines, with conventional propulsion. The MoD is planning to enhance their capability by fitting them with air independent propulsion (AIP). This is being achieved by retro-fitting all six Scorpenes in turn with an AIP pack developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).


It is unclear whether the three additional Scorpene submarines will be fitted ab initio with the DRDO’s indigenous AIP, or whether they will be recycled in turn through MDL.


Ensuring indigenous content


In a third sanction, the DAC approved a proposal to lay down guidelines for achieving the desired indigenous content in all categories of capital acquisition cases. “It will help in achieving ‘Aatmanirbharta’ in critical manufacturing technologies and life-cycle sustenance of defence platforms/equipment through indigenous manufacturing,” announced the MoD.

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