The IAF is now strongly pitching for acquiring another 36 Rafale fighters after it gets the first 36 jets under the mega Rs 59,000 crore contract (7.87 billion euro) inked with France last September, stressing that the “follow-on” deal will cost just over 60% of the original acquisition and induction price.
Defence ministry sources say the IAF has made “some presentations” on the operational need to procure 36 additional Rafales as part of its long-term plans, with the force contending the French fighters will prove to be much cheaper than the proposed fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) to be developed with Russia.
“But no final decision as yet has been taken on either the 36 more Rafales or the FGFA project,” said a MoD source. Citing IAF’s “critical operational necessity”, the Modi government had last year inked the deal for the 36 Rafales, with their weapon packages, associated supplies and logistics, after scrapping the long-pending and deadlocked $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project for 126 fighters.
As earlier reported by TOI, the first Rafale squadron (18 jets) will be based at Hasimara (West Bengal) to cater for the eastern front with China, while the second will come up at Ambala (Haryana) for the western one with Pakistan. The 36 omni-role jets, which can also deliver nuclear weapons, are slated for delivery from November 2019 to mid-2022.
IAF has told MoD that the infrastructure coming up at Hasimara and Ambala airbases can accommodate two Rafale squadrons each. “This will cut down the induction costs of the 36 additional fighters,” said the source.
Grappling with just 33-34 fighter squadrons when at least 42-44 are needed to tackle the “collusive threat” from China and Pakistan, IAF says the Rafales will be “a huge deterrent” with their deadly Meteor air-to-air missiles (150-km range), Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles (300-km) and other weapons.
Underlining “the primacy of airpower” in modern-day warfare, IAF has told MoD the Meteor beyond visual range missile is far superior to any air-to-air missile with Chinese or Pakistani fighters.
The original Rafale deal, incidentally, had come in for sharp criticism from certain quarters due to the huge costs involved. A single fighter in itself costs around Rs 700 crore. But the per fighter cost zooms up to Rs 1,640 crore if the overall deal is taken into account, which includes a potent weapons package, all spares and costs for 75% fleet availability and “performance-based logistics support” for five years.
While IAF is also backing the long-delayed indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, the single-engine fighter with a limited 400-km range and 2.5-tonne weapon load can be used primarily for “air defence” to take on incoming enemy jets.
The Rafale also has a faster turnaround time, capable of undertaking five sorties in a day. The existing fighters in the IAF combat fleet, in contrast, can do only three sorties at the most.