NEW DELHI: Cutting through the guns-versus-butter debate, India had signed a cheque for 7.87 billion euros (around Rs 58,800 crore) for its most expensive single military purchase - 36 Rafale fighter jets.
If the total cost is to be divided by the number of aircraft contracted the figure would be more than Rs 1,610 crore a plane. But the total cost includes separate components such as weapons, training and setting up of infrastructure.
The payment will be staggered over six years.
This was India's first contract for a full-fledged fighter aircraft since the Sukhois were contracted in 1997, barring the advance trainer jet Hawk (contracted in 2004), in nearly two decades.
The Rafale was the Indian Air Force choice through the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition announced in 2007. It had emerged as the lowest bidder beating the Eurofighter Typhoon after the two were chosen from a field of six combat jets. The Defence Acquisition Council, headed by then Defence Minister A.K. Antony, approved the Request For Proposal to buy 126 aircraft in August 2007.
The MMRCA project envisaged the acquisition of 126 jets of which 18 would be bought in fly-away condition and 108 were to be made in India. The original deal for 126 aircraft was finalised by the UPA but was not signed because BJP leaders, then in the Opposition, had raised several questions.
After Modi came to power, that deal was virtually scrapped. However, when the Prime Minister visited France in 2015, a surprise announcement was made that India had placed an order for 36 fighter aircraft.
Narendra Modi announced during his visit to Paris that India would prefer a direct purchase of 36 Rafales that would be ready to fly. When the MMRCA project was announced in 2007 under the UPA regime, the cost of the total acquisition was estimated to be about 10 billion $.
The Congress suspects that the government paid Rs 1,570.80 crore for a jet although the UPA-negotiated price was Rs 526.1 crore. The party has also raised questions about a deal between a firm owned by Anil Ambani and Dassault, which makes the Rafale. Hence the Congress was asking that the government should reveal purchase price details of the deal.
The NDA government has rejected Congress's allegations and said the deal secured by it is better in terms of capability, price, equipment, delivery, maintenance, training, etc., than that notionally negotiated by the then UPA government.
It said the approximate acquisition cost of the Rafale aircraft has already been provided to the Parliament. And the Provision of exact item-wise cost and other information will reveal, inter alia, details regarding the various customizations and weapons systems specially designed to augment the effectiveness and lethality of the assets, impact our military preparedness and compromise our national security.
What are Rafale fighter jets
The Indian Air Force had projected the requirement for such an aircraft not only because the depletion in its fleet of fighters that are ageing. It had also said that the aircraft must have the capabilities that the IAF wanted to fulfil the operational directive from the government to be ready for a two-front war. The directive was in the context of the security establishment perceiving China and Pakistan to be its two main adversaries.
The Rafale is a twin-engined delta-winged aircraft. The fighter is in service with the French Armee de'l'air. The weapons package for the version customised for India would include advanced beyond visual range Meteor air-to-air missiles with a range of more than 100 kms, the Scalp air-to-ground missile with a range of 300km. Its detection and survival features would include Active Electronic Scanned Array radar.
For India, French maker Dassault Aviation is required to deliver the first of the jets in 36 months, that is September 2019, and complete deliveries in 30 months in 2022.
The French government has stood as a guarantor against defaults.
Dassault and its partner firms have also undertaken to ensure that 75 per cent of IAF's Rafale fleet (that is at least 27 of the 36 aircraft after all deliveries) are ready for war at all times.