The ‘Rafale deal’ is a major political controversy in India. It is related to the purchase of 36 multirole fighter aircraft for a price estimation of €7.8 billion by the Defense Ministry of India from France’s Dassault Aviation.
In 2007, based on the demand by the Indian Air force, the UPA government released tenders for 126 MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) fighters. In January 2012, Dassault Aviation, a French company made the lowest bids for its aircrafts Rafale. According to the deal conditions, 126 jets were required. Out of them, 18 fighter jets were to be imported in a flyaway condition and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was supposed to manufacture the remaining 108 jets with assistance from Dassault.
In 2014, HAL and Dassault signed a work-share agreement and even negotiations were carried out over the pricing, technology, weapons system, customization, and maintenance but there’s no final UPA deal because it was never finalized. Even today, the congress party claims that it had negotiated the deal with a price of Rs.526 crore per jet. But, it is still a question whether the Dassault agreed to deliver the jets with the requirements of India and within the given timeline. It is because the UPA government never went through the deal. As disagreements over the deal’s cost and warranty for the aircraft produced by HAL continued, the then defense minister Manohar Parrikar said that ‘Sukhoi Su-30MKI’ could be acquired as an alternative to Rafale, but Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha disagreed. He said that they both differ in their capabilities.
Then, after the NDA government took over to rule, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Paris in April 2015. There, he announced the government’s decision to buy 36 Rafale fighters in a flyaway condition citing the critical operational requirements by the Indian Air Force. In June of the same year, the defense ministry withdrew the 126 aircraft deal tender officially. In the following year 2016, the French president Francois Hollande visited India on the occasion of Republic day. In that visit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between India and France on the purchase of Rafale jets following the clearance from the Indian Cabinet committee regarding security. In 2016, a final deal for 36 Rafale jets was signed for €7.87 billion (approx. Rs.59,000 crore) by India and France. The delivery of the jets would start from September 2018 according to this deal.
Business tycoon Anil Ambani entered the picture officially in October 2016 stating that the Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense and Dassault Aviation are making a joint venture and named it Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL). The joint venture is made to focus on aerostructures, engine components, and electronics and also to foster research and development projects under the initiative, “Indigenously Developed Designed and Manufactured” (IDDM). Dassault was forced to make compensation investments in India that worth 50% of the purchase value. Despite having no experience in aircraft part production, choosing Reliance Group as a partner instead of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has raised doubts of a close acquaintance of Narendra Modi with the Ambani family.
Fast forward to 2018, there were allegations that the Modi government has signed the contract with France at a much higher price than the negotiated during the UPA rule. Rahul Gandhi and many other Congress leaders have demanded the NDA government to reveal the price of Rafale. The government has rejected to disclose the price considering the secrecy clause of the deal. However, defense minister Manohar Parrikar justified the costs by saying that the cost of an aircraft will often eclipse the cost of equipment required to make it combat-ready. He adds that the new agreement includes developmental costs for the integration of a helmet-mounted display and also a serviceability agreement.
Petitions were filed before the Supreme Court raising questions regarding the pricing, choosing Reliance as an offset partner, and also the process followed in finalizing the Rafale deal. On 14 November 2018, after extensive arguments, a bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi reserved the verdict while the apex court said that the details of pricing would be disclosed only after deciding on whether to make it public or not. On 14 December 2018, considering all the hearings, the Supreme Court said that it found nothing wrong with the Rafale deal. A bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi said that it studied the issue extensively and stated that it was satisfying and there is no occasion to doubt the Rafale deal signing process. The Supreme Court makes a clear statement that the Rafale deal process was perfectly fine and also dismissed all the PIL’s that demanded the court probe into it. The Supreme Court also declared that it was not the court’s job to examine the pricing of the Rafale jets.
Recently, on 27 July 2020, the first batch of five Rafale jets took off from France for India. It is nearly four years after the inter-governmental agreement was inked with Paris. The aircraft flew from the airbase in the French port city of Bordeaux. It covered a distance of nearly 7,000 km with air-to-air fueling and with a single stop in the UAE before arriving at Ambala airbase. These aircraft are deployed to significantly boost the Indian Air Force’s combat capabilities at this time when India is locked in a tense border row with China in the eastern Ladakh.
The first Rafale jet was handed over to the Indian Air Force in October 2019, during a visit to France by our Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. As per an official statement, it is said that the delivery of 10 aircrafts’ has been completed at the scheduled time and five will stay back at France for training missions. It also stated that the delivery of all the 36 aircrafts’, as per the deal will be completed by the end of 2021. Regarding the features of the combat aircrafts’, out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and the rest six will be trainers. Indeed, the trainer jets will be twin-seater that will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.