Cite Indo-French Joint Statement to reject argument that Rafale now costs more because of “enhancements”
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Aug 18
At a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan charged Prime Minister Narendra Modi with “gross misuse of office” in personally orchestrating the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from France, while scuttling near-complete negotiations with Dassault for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), with most of them slated to be built in India.
They presented the case against the Euro 7.85 billion deal for 36 Rafales, which Modi announced in Paris on April 10, 2015 and was inked in Delhi in September 2016, in a detailed, nine-page document, along with numerous annexures.
The press release, for the first time, systematically rebuts the government’s argument that each Rafale cost only Euro 91.7 million (Rs 730 crore), because the price of the fighter should exclude an additional Euro 47.2 million (Rs 375 crore) spent on “India specific enhancements”. Critics of the deal have argued that the “India-specific enhancements” are an integral part of the Rafale, and were a part of the aborted tender for 126 MMRCAs. Adding the cost of “enhancements” to the price of the aircraft would take the cost of each Rafale to Euro 138.9 million (Rs 1,105 crore).
Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan rebutted the “enhancements” argument by citing the India-France Joint Statement issued after Modi met French President Francois Hollande in Paris in April 2015. In that formal document thetwo leaders agreed that “the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved [in the MMRCA testing] by Indian Air Force (IAF), and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France.”
Wednesday’s press release points out: “That clear and emphatic affirmation in the [Modi-Hollande] Joint Statement nails the falsehood that has been spread since then—namely, that the price per aircraft is so much higher because of some novel ‘India specific enhancements’ in the 36 Rafales now contracted.”
Top defence ministry officials who briefed the media on the day the Rafale contract was signed said that the “India specific enhancements” included: Helmet mounted display sights, radar warning receiver, radio altimeters, Doppler radar and cold-climate engine start facilities. These are standard fitments in start-of-the-art fighters.
The press conference also argued that it was incorrect to directly compare the current cost of the Rafale, with the price Dassault had offered in the 126-MMRCA tender. Instead, we should compare: “the cost at which the first 18 aircraft of the aborted MMRCA deal would have been obtained in the ‘fly-away’ condition and the cost at which the 36 are going to be obtained in the ‘fly-away’ condition under the new Agreement.”
That is because, in manufacturing the Rafale in India, which the 126-MMRCA deal provided for, would have been substantially more expensive than buying Rafale fighters in “fly-away condition”, like in the current 36-fighter procurement. That is because building in India would have incurred additional costs on manufacturing infrastructure, developing vendors and technology transfer.
Pointing the finger directly at Modi, the three veteran politicians presented evidence that the defence minister at that time, Manohar Parrikar, was not a party to the decision to buy 36 Rafales in “flyaway condition”.
The press release stated: “The sorts of statements that the then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, made in the wake of the announcement [to buy 36 Rafales] left no doubt that he had not been consulted in regard to this drastic change in the project. He moved swiftly to distance himself from the decision after the Modi-Hollande announcement. ‘Modi-ji took the decision; I back it up,’ he told Doordarshan on April 13, 2015. Elaborating to NDTV, he described the decision as ‘the outcome of discussions between the Prime Minister [of India] and the President of France.’”
Presenting further evidence that the decision to buy 36 Rafales was Modi’s alone, the press release quoted Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar who, on April 8, 2015, just two days before Modi’s announcement in Paris, briefed the media that a high-level visit like the prime minister’s does not get involved in “ongoing defence contracts… [but instead] usually looks at big picture issues even in the security field.”
The opposition veterans levelled three basic charges against the government. First, “national security” was jeopardised by buying just 36 Rafales instead of 126, without IAF concurrence. Second, the inflated price paid placed “an enormous additional burden… on the national Exchequer.” Third, it was folly to remove Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), with its “decades-long experience in manufacturing aircraft.” from manufacturing the Rafale. This allowed “enormous financial benefit” to flow to Reliance Defence, despite it having “absolutely no experience in manufacturing aerospace and defence equipment.”
During the press conference, Shourie sprung the bombshell that Anil Ambani had written to him a day earlier, attempting to dissociate Reliance Defence from the Rafale purchase. Prashant Bhushan read out Shourie’s response to Ambani: “The issues transcend Reliance. If only you knew how very, very upset people in the Air Force are, and how keenly they feel that the country’s defence—and their lives—have been jeopardised by the sudden and inexplicable jettisoning of the estimates that the Air Force had made of what it needs.”
Union Minister Arun Jaitley, in a Facebook post titled ‘The Rafale Falsehood Repeated’ on Wednesday, termed allegations of misdoings in Rafale fighter deal as “unsubstantiated” and “reprocessed lies” and said these are being levelled by forces which are increasingly desperate to prove their relevance. “There is not a grain of truth in the wild allegations repeated today nor anything substantiating in the purported facts and voluminous documents marshalled to corroborate the baseless accusations, Jaitley said.