Close on the heels of the recently concluded bilateral meet between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the French President Emmanuel Macron, National Security Advisors of India and France met here on Thursday for a strategic dialogue. The decision to hold the Strategic Dialogue soon was taken when the two leaders had met in Paris.
The talks between NSA Ajit Doval and his French counterpart Emmanuel Bonne focussed on taking forward the issues which were on the agenda of the bilateral meet between Modi and Macron. The two had met earlier this year in Osaka on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.
Highly placed sources have confirmed that the strategic dialogue between the two countries focused on future military acquisition and on the manufacturing of defence equipment under the Make in India initiative. Besides offering two more squadrons of Rafale fighter aircraft for the IAF, the French are keen to sell more `Scorpene’ submarine under Project 75.
Also, because of the critical shortage of fighter planes in the Indian Air Force, the two sides are discussing the possibility of purchasing two more squadrons of Rafale from France.
New Fighters for the IAF
Late September defence Minister Rajnath Singh accompanied by Indian Air Force Air Chief BS Dhanoa is expected to travel to Paris to take delivery of the first French fighter `Rafale’ aircraft. According to a senior IAF officer, the 36 fighter aircraft will be operational in another four years.
The two countries had inked an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for buying 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from the Dassault Aviation of France for around Euro 7.8 billion.
As has been reported these fighter jets are state of the art and are twin-engine and multi-role. These have the capability of engaging in air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks and are nuclear-capable.
These fighter planes which have been customised for India will come equipped with Meteor missile, SCALP ground attack missiles. These have a range of up to 300 Kms. However before officially being inducted in IAF in 2020, these machines will undergo extensive tests. Also on board, these machines are AESA radar, SPECTRA Electronic Warfare System and IRST System. Pilots and ground crew are already being trained in France and will be carrying out tests for almost 1500 hours for validating the specifications which were requested by India.
Rafale aircraft will be based at two bases: Ambala Airbase in 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ – this squadron is closer to the Western border with Pakistan. The Airbase is also home to Jaguars, which can be deployed rapidly to deal with any incidents from Pakistan.
Another squadron will be based out of Hashimara, West Bengal, to tackle any incidents coming from China. The pilots of the IAF have had an opportunity to fly Rafale at the recently concluded Garuda joint Air Force exercise in Paris.
India has 30 squadrons of fighter planes in comparison to Pakistan which has 25 squadrons today. And the government has been making efforts to bridge the shortages in the IAF. The IAF is already looking to procure 114 fighter planes. Besides the French `Rafale’ from Dassault Aviation, top global aerospace giants including US-based Boeing and Lockheed Martin, European `Eurofighter’, Russian United Aircraft Corporation and Gripen from SAAB of Sweden are in the race for an estimated deal approximately $15 billion.
Depending on the order, both the American as well others have offered to set up their manufacturing base here in India.
According to Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur VM (retd), Addl Director-General, Centre for Air Power Studies: “Operationally, the Rafale is a very potent machine with its EW suite, BVR missiles and the ranges at which it can operate. The logistics line would already be in place for the initial contract and hence getting more Rafales would make eminent sense logistically. It must be borne in mind that we have already paid for R&D and integration of India Specific Enhancements in the initial contract of 36 aircraft; so the new Rafales that come would not be charged for that and would be cheaper to that extent.”
“As part of the initial Rafale contract, two air bases are being prepared and it would be easy to accommodate another squadron at each place; additionally, the complete training infrastructure would also be in place. So, the purchase of more Rafales would be logical from all angles – operational, logistics and financial,” he added.