Dassault has finally cleared the controversy over Rafale planes, and its time we move ahead with more orders for fighter planes. Update: Recently, France PNF (national financial prosecutors’ office) ordered a judicial investigation into alleged corruption and favouritism in the Rafale deal by the current Indian government – National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Indian Air-Force desperately needs fighter planes to replenish its existing defunct MIG 21 and MIG 27 squadrons. I am writing this article as an exception. A country must have a redoubtable defense to protect against any threats. Generally a critic of defense spending, here I am emphasizing purchase of fighter jets. Compared to peers, India lags behind in defense know how in spite of many attacks and threats to our motherland. Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi is prudent to order 36 flyby Rafale fighter jets since our country has a history of lag in defense deals which becomes a big turn off for tech transfer with foreign partners. A squadron in India has a fleet of eighteen fighter jets and needs at least 41 squadrons in its fleet. However, Indian airplanes include obsolete MIG 21 and MIG 27 while Mirage 2000 and Jaguar squadrons need upgrades and would be gradually phased out. HAL has developed Tejas ingenuously but it has still some operational improvements and yet to be tested in battle. It’s good the government has identified 250 planes to buy from foreign partners.
I propose that India inducts at least 23 new squadrons i.e. 414 new fighter jets. This also includes improved Tejas coming into fleet. These would include at least 10 more squadrons of Rafale planes for technology transfer between France and India complemented by an order of at least 7 squadrons of SAAP Gripen E from Sweden. Rafale and Gripen are two of the best fifth generation planes according to various sources. They both are multi-role fighter aircraft with superior stealth facilities. This would have a twin effect of fomenting deep relations with respective countries i.e. France and Sweden as well as the chance to enhance best in line technology. As a forward-looking foreign policy, India needs to build the deep lasting relationship with France and Scandinavian countries and defense provides a very good opportunity to forge everlasting alliance. Rafale has been tested in battles in the middle east while Gripen is the most cost-effective fighter plane in the world. Gripen has a very low maintenance cost and will complement Rafale in many aspects. Moreover, Sweden is also ready to build a world-class facility in India for manufacturing the planes. There are many articles and news on the specifications of both fighter jets and this article is not focused on technical aspects of both the planes. India has Sukhoi Pak Fa in its squadron and along with Rafale and Gripen, Indian air force would become formidable. India could further buy at least eight F34 planes from the United States of America. F34 is very expensive but nonetheless its top of the line fighter plane in the world and will go a long way in completing the fleet. Mind you, F34 has already been sold to a few countries. In investments, its good to diversify for superior risk-adjusted returns but diversification beyond a point does not help in diversifying risk. I follow a similar pattern in structuring India’s air force to bewilder opponents.
Last but not least, one way to discuss friendship between India and China would be a proposal to buy Chengdu J-20 fighter jets from China. This will at least ease tensions between the two countries by giving India access to the best defense R&D from China. It’s a long shot with a probability of less than 2% of it materializing. Do not ask me how I calculated the chance? I call this strategy Breakout SMART strategy. India is one of the few countries which repeatedly had attacks on its soil and yet in spite of being one of the largest economies in the world, it has a defense system (Army, Air Force, and Navy) inadequate compared to peers of its size. The idea is to develop and manufacture the best in class defense and space exploration systems and the best way is to replenish aging fighter planes through access to the best R&D in the world. This will leapfrog India among the world’s very best.