PART 3 – IS IT WORTH IT ?
This is the final part of the “Decoding Rafale” series. We’ve gone through the controversy in the first part & learnt about the capabilities in the second. But after all this a vital question remains, is it worth it? How different it would be if we bought MiG-35s at one third the price of a Rafale? Does the price justify what it offers?
But firstly, Why only 36?
“36 aircraft are not as good as 37 aircraft but they are certainly better than 35 aircraft”
Considering the two front scenario, our beloved but mischievous neighbours & shrinking squadron strength it is a no brainer that we need more aircraft than just 36. Having said that 36 could be just a start. All the infrastructure required to support the aircraft, the training required to maintain the aircraft as well as the enhancements are already there & proven. Once IAF gains a bit of operational confidence on the aircraft & also gets a budgetary breather, we can order 36 more aircraft for less than 6 billion euros under a standing offer from Dassault aviation. The subsequent aircraft would be cheaper because the one time fixed cost is already paid to the Dassault aviation.
Rafale is not an aircraft with which IAF would like to have a quantitative edge. That job is left for the LCA Tejas Mk1/Mk1A/Mk2. Rafale is all about bringing extraordinary capabilities to the table.
Do cost justify the need?
We shouldn’t forget the incredible service record of the Rafale. The Rafale has operated in the Middle East in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya & Mali without a single safety incident. The aircraft in the air didn’t need any extra ELINT aircraft & electronic warfare aircraft to support it. Of course it can be argued that the Middle Eastern countries don’t have an elaborate surface to air system but then the Rafale too was not pushed to its limits. At its limits, it has some top notch technology that’ll make it a worthy opponent to Chinese air aggression during its service with the IAF. And this top notch technology costs money. We could have bought cheaper aircraft such as the F-16 or the MiG-35 at a fraction of the cost of the Rafale but would they provide us with the same technological superiority & political reliability of the French? No.
With a US based aircraft like the F/A-18 or the economical F-16 (in the picture) there always comes dos & don’ts from US. You cannot do joint exercises with other countries, cannot use it as a nuclear launch platform, & in case we do something that USA didn’t like (remember Pokhran?), they’ll stop the supply chain of spares & can bring us to the negotiating table, making us do what they want.
The Russian MiG-35 story comes with different problems. We always faced engine troubles when it came to Russian aircraft, be it the AL-31FP of the Su-30MKI or the RD-33MK of the MiG-29K. Investing in MiG-35 is jumping into the loop again for the next 40 years.
We needed a reliable political & technological partner & France ticks both the boxes.
In addition to it to fulfill the gaps of future IAF needs, the only addition to the fleet in the next 5 years are going to be the Rafale jets & the 83 units of the Tejas Mk1A (apart from the 21 MiG-29 which are an emergency purchase). IAF wouldn’t be that worried for its numerical superiority as much as it would be for its technological superiority against aircraft such as JF-17 Block 3 & the J-20. And when it comes to have a technological superiority, there are hardly any aircraft in the world in the same league of the Rafale.