Jet Set Go: The Rafale Tale

Turning the pages of our history books, the Indian Subcontinent is visible as a coherent landmass that was once ruled by numerous empires. Be it the Indian Golden Age or the expeditions from the West, India saw it all from the eyes of these empires. As the pages turned, the world reached the Age of Enlightenment, democracies and revolutions, but India? It was still cuffed. The Indian scholars realised the need for national defence when the country was seized by new opponents, the ones with more advanced machines, the ones who claimed themselves to be superior and kicked off brutalities.


Upon independence, the Indian Army that we proudly proclaim of came under self-administration. Although India had been an active member of the Non-Aligned movement throughout the 20th Century, the geopolitical situation we found ourselves in just after the home-rule was established, compelled the ‘military’ to be more than just an option. The discernment opinionated by political scholars grew stiffer and stiffer as we reached the 21st Century that the very sincere question about 'the need of military' became absolutely naive.


Although the debate about pacifying the world order might continue, the military can never be fully eliminated as the defence sector alone is a hub of innovation and employment. One such product of this sector's advancing technology is the famous Twin Engine aircraft, said to have an “Omni-role” due to its performance in ground support, interdictions and aerial supremacy, thus, making “RAFALE” an appropriate name that interprets into “Gust of Wind”. The project cost €45.6 billion, which is readily visible in its avionics, radar and weapon systems with its top speed and range spiking to almost 1400km/h and 3700km respectively. Today, Dassault’s jet is cited as one of the finest fighters competing edge to edge with the Eurofighter Typhoon and is also the French Air Force’s favourite. 

With all the perks that Dassault’s Rafale offers, it hasn’t been able to capitalise on the global market. And the reason why almost every country dumped Rafale? Economies of Scale. The American and Russian competitors set an example of economies of scale. The almost never-ending demand for Lockheed and Russia’s goodwill in the defence market just adds to their success. The French defence is also considered quite unstable, thus, the expensive crafts are only being used by Egypt and Qatar apart from India and France. 


The former Indian Government billed a tender for bidding. The initial bidding race was between various Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tested by the Indian Air Force from various manufacturers, namely Lockheed Martin’s F-16 (USA), Boeing F/A-18s (USA), Eurofighter Typhoon (EU), Russia’s MiG-35, Saab’s Gripen (Sweden) and Dassault’s Rafale (French Republic). Grasping the benefits from the lowest bids, Rafale was shortlisted to place an order of 126 aircraft (18 off-the-shelf produced in France and 108 to be assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited with transferred technology to promote Make in India Initiative) in 2012. For three years, HAL and Dassault tried to collaborate to contract their differences when the parliament took a flip, and a new government was elected. 



The newly elected Prime Minister, upon his election, strategized to expand India’s foreign relations by stretching his visits around the globe. A visit to France was no surprise, but the outcome shocked everyone. Indian and French Ministries released a joint statement conversing about the new Rafale deal which modified the number of aircraft to 36 French made off-the-self aircraft for the same price. The statement also included a 50% Offset clause, stating Dassault’s obligations about investing 50% of the revenue from the deal in Indian companies. 

The chronological events which followed next caused the Modi Government to be accused of favouritism towards the Ambani brothers from Twitter to various newspapers. In the months that followed the new Rafale deal, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Limited was established. The Hindu Business Line expressed this as a move of biasness and stated that ‘₹21000 Crore of the ₹30000 Crore offset clause will be invested in the newly established Reliance Defence Limited, citing that the choice was made by the government rather than Dassault. Dassault clarified the allegations but another incongruous decision was attached to the clarification – a joint venture. Upon Dassault’s public announcement, it entered into the infamous agreement with Reliance Defence Limited, clearly hinting that things were far more twisted than they seemed. 

The second dilemma was about the price of the deal, a dilemma which led to Rahul Gandhi’s Contempt Case. How a fall of 90 jets can’t even reduce a penny? How were these decisions taken without consultations? And how did a ₹524 Crore jet turn into three times more than its original price in a single year? Well, the defence experts stated it was a simple calculation turned into a political drama, where the authorities felt they didn’t need to answer the opposition’s questions. The new deal incorporated a newer version. An R3 Standard with modern radars, scalp cruise missiles and Air-to-Air Meteor missiles arriving in Squadrons of 18 each (similar to that of the Indian-Russian MiG deal) replaced the outdated versions in the previous deal. 


2020 marked the arrival of the furious aircraft in the Indian skies, finally initiating an 8-year long deal. 5 jets flew from France to India's Ambala Air Force Station, New Delhi with their profuse roar, marking the beginning of the Indian-French relationship which would further strengthen with the construction of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. The Rafale, along with the freshly arrived Apache and Chinook Helicopters from the USA, can prove decisive in the current situation of conflict. Even though these developments might look promising, we can’t leave behind the ruckus which led us here. 

In the world of politics, we are often quick to forget the tragedies of the past, yet valuable lessons can be drawn by studying the causes and effects of these events. But after all, what can one do if history is hidden, and that too, beneath so many layers?