France Rafale

New Delhi: “France yesterday did not announce any new aircraft acquisition order! The amount being referred to will finance solely the new F4 standard for the Rafale. The 28 aircraft remaining to be delivered to the French Air Force is part of previous acquisition contracts,” tweeted French ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler in response to reports in a section of the media that claimed the government of France had ordered aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation to supply it with 28 Rafale fighter planes at 50% of the price that has been offered to India for 36 planes in flyaway condition.

The Indian National Congress, led by its president Rahul Gandhi, has been picking any piece of contrarian news to question the India-France government-to-government contract worth € 7.8 billion (Rs 59,000 crore) for Rafale fighter jets. That the planes offered to India are overpriced is one of the prime accusations of the opposition party even though there have been conclusive reports that

  1. France’s negotiations with the UPA government were called off;
  2. the Rafale jets offered to India under UPA rule were the base model while that the NDA government is obtaining is an advanced version;
  3. the second factor above notwithstanding, the Rafale jets the Narendra Modi government is procuring is cheaper by Rs 59 crore per unit than what Rahul Gandhi’s party was settling for, reported MyNation.

Further, Gandhi and the INC seem unfazed by the insinuation that AgustaWestland VVIP scam accused arms dealer Christian Michel, who was dealing with the Congress-led UPA government, was additionally an agent of Rafale’s competitor Eurofighter Typhoon made by a consortium of western European enterprises, which might be the reason why the opposition party would keep alleging wrongdoings in the India-France deal, no matter how much it is explained that the government followed well laid down procedures.

There are also reports in the American media that say an INC Member of Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh was involved in a scandal of titanium mining in the State. This titanium was being supplied to Boeing, another rival of Dassault Aviation, reported The New York Times. The INC has not reacted to reports that Boeing might be egging the party on to raise the Rafale issue so that the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal is scrapped, which would give Boeing another chance to bid for the contract.

HAL and Reliance, France and India

Rahul Gandhi and the INC have claimed further that Anil Ambani-promoted Reliance Defence benefited from the Rafale deal at the expense of the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This, despite the facts, revealed so far that

  1. HAL has never been an offset partner in a contract; it could have been a full-fledged collaborator in the making of Rafale fighters only if these 36 planes were jointly manufactured by India and France whereas these aircraft are coming to India made wholly in France, with neither HAL nor Reliance playing any part in the process; this has been clarified by no less than the HAL chief;
  2. the HAL’s record in delivering equipment and machine in time has been abysmal over the past decade ― something the Indian Air Force complained about even during the UPA regime;
  3. Reliance Defence is only one of the 100 offset partners of Dassault Aviation;
  4. neither the French government nor the Indian counterpart played a role in choosing Reliance Defence as one of the offset partners; former French president François Hollande, fighting his own demons in French domestic politics, disowned the statement attributed to him that the Modi government had pressured his dispensation to choose Ambani’s firm as an offset partner of Dassault;
  5. there could be a Gandhi-Hollande nexus;
  6. both the current government of France and Dassault Aviation rubbished Hollande’s allegation;
  7. the only job Reliance Defence has got so far is making the cones of Falcon planes, which have nothing to do with Rafale.

On Tuesday,

  • The French govt refuted the reports that claimed it had ordered 28 of the jets at half the cost compared to what India had paid;
  • It stressed that the € 2 billion figure being mentioned for the purchase of the 28 fighters was in fact meant for development (and not procurement) of the new F4 variant of the Rafale

The IAF is getting the F3R variant of the Rafale, with the 36 jets slated for delivery in the 2019-2022 timeframe, under the deal inked by the NDA government in September 2016, reports The Times of India.

The leading Indian newspaper wrote, “The original F1 standard Rafale was first upgraded to F2, with air-to-ground and air-to-air weapon capabilities, while the F3 and F3R ones enhanced its versatility further. As per fighter manufacturer Dassault Aviation, the validation of the F4 standard is planned for 2024, with some functions becoming available as of 2022.”