Jayachandran/Mint

Jayachandran/Mint

Ourview | A jet of limited use at best

Ourview | A jet of limited use at best

Finally, India has set its sights on the Dassault Rafale as its medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). The choice of the French fighter ends a chapter of suspense in one of the largest defence deals in recent times.

As with most such choices, this one too has raised many questions. The logic of the purchase—whatever be the merits of the decision—is questionable. And this is not only a question of the choice between the Eurofighter Typhoon—the other aircraft in the final round—and the Rafale. If anything, the entire selection process raises questions.

Jayachandran/Mint

Then, there is the issue of larger, strategic, benefits from signing such a deal. It is doubtful, if there are any. Instead, if the deal were signed with the US or Russia, the political benefits to India would be of a very different magnitude. After the 2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, it made much more sense to go for a US fighter jet: it would have added depth to a strategic partnership that appears uncertain now. The issue of Americans offering “sub-standard" planes such as the F-16 (which Pakistan has) and the F-18 could have been resolved in a different manner. India should have shortlisted the Lockheed Martin F-22 “Raptor"—a fifth generation fighter plane—as an option and then held high-level political negotiations with the Americans to try and get it.

At one point, the US had indicated that India could have the F-35—another fine option. That was never explored seriously. The Rafale is no match for the F-22 and F-35. The strategic advantages of tying up such deals elude the hide-bound, committee-based decision making in such deals.

Even at a late stage—when the choice was a suboptimal one between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Rafale—India could still have made the best of it, by choosing the Typhoon, a newer vintage plane that allows for future development. That option too has been closed. And in terms of cost—when seen in a holistic manner—the Typhoon and the Rafale are nearly equally priced: the difference being just Rs25 crore per plane. But then, the golden rule in the government of India is to chase pennies and not plug the larger costs. And the opportunity cost in choosing the Rafale is painfully high.

What plane should have India chosen? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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