Who needs to down the FGFA?
There is a buzz in the air about New Delhi’s intentions of shooting down the 2007 agreement with Moscow for the joint development of fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) or at least put it on the hold to generate the funds for financing the Rafale deal with France.
Under the estimated $20-30 billion mother-of-the-deals for the acquisition of 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA), Dassault Aviation’s Rafale was picked as a stopgap measure to sustain the IAF’s strength in view of its depleting inventory caused by the phasing out of the Soviet designed MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters, indigenously assembled by HAL under Russian license.
Experts like Prof. Bharat Karnad of New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research underscore the urgent need to rationalise the force structure, ideally to Su-30s, the indigenous Tejas Mk-1 for short-range air defence, Tejas Mk-II as MMRCA, and the Su-50 PAK FA as fifth-generation fighter to be developed with Russia.
“The bureaucratic interest of the IAF prompts it to exaggerate wrong threats and talk of declining fighter assets,” he wrote in an article published by the New Indian Express wishing Finance-cum-Defence Minister Arun Jaitley to nix the Rafale deal.
However, the spate of negative articles in the Indian media about the defence cooperation with Russia, especially concerning the FGFA project, indicates behind-the-scenes hectic attempts by Rafale lobbyists.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin’s emotional, but just, remarks recently made at the Press Club of India meet about less sophisticated Chinese Su-27 Flankers “swatting Rafale like mosquitoes in August sky,” reflect the intensity of behind the scene debate over the issue.
The latest crash of India’s state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-30 MKI near a Pune village and grounding of the entire Sukhoi fleet till the completion of the probe has again witnessed a spurt in readers’ comments calling for ditching defence ties with Russia. Most of the ‘readers’ comments’ are from the so called trolls, who pretend to know about the reality better than the members of commission investigating into the accident.
Russian analysts see the ‘hand of European rivals’ in fanning the negative sentiments about Russia in India.
During my recent Moscow visit I had an opportunity to talk to Dr Konstantin Makiyenko of the independent CAST think tank involved in the analyses of strategies and defence technologies about the IAF’s MMRCA acquisition project. He believes that it would have been prudent about a decade ago, when there was an active need to phase out the workhorse of the IAF’s MiG-21 fighters and indigenous LCA Tejas was still raw.
Echoing Prof. Karnad’s opinion, Dr Makiyenko said today when LCA Tejas is in the final stages of development, it would be prudent to arrange for its extra financing, simultaneously with the speeding up of the FGFA project. He believes that in this case both the aircraft would begin their entry into IAF around the same time when the first Rafale would roll out if the French deal is finalised at the earliest.
Moscow-based Indian diplomats were also positive about the FGFA project and noted its ‘centrality’ in the long-term programme of India-Russia Military-Technical Cooperation. They underscored that it is progressing as per schedule in spite of media reports based on bits of incomplete information.
There seem to be some misconceptions on the Indian side. The Russian partners refute the media reports about not letting the IAF team close to the Russian PAK-FA prototypes or reducing the Indian work share. They say that from the very beginning it was evident that India will become an equal fifty-fifty partner in the FGFA project only after accumulating enough experience in developing this type of project and the end result of this contract will show this.
Reality is that so far Russia has born all the costs for the research and development of its several prototypes already successfully undergoing tests in flight. It has heavily invested on R&D. The Indian side has accepted the preliminary design contract on completion of which the Russian side had to carry out additional work, but it took India almost a whole year for clearing additional expenses of not more than $10 million, sources in Russian aviation industry claim.
In spite of such bureaucratic hiccups, the joint FGFA project will give a technological boost to India’s capabilities in aircraft designing, developing and production. Russia has assured India that it will get such access to technology and its adoption, which even the closest US ally and partner, the UK does not enjoy within the F35 Lightening project of the fifth generation fighter.
With Rafale MMRCA price negotiations still underway, the West’s bête noir, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s New Delhi visit scheduled in December we can expect more of the negative reporting in the Indian media about the India-Russia military-technical cooperation in general and FGFA in particular.
As part of their sanctions over Ukraine, the US and European Union have already blacklisted key Russian defence industry officials directly involved in military-technical cooperation with India and it will not be surprising if the West shifts Russia-bashing to the Indian soil.
However, it would be appropriate to ask the pro-US and pro-West lobby a few questions:
- After World War II, how many wars did the US win, fighting with the American arms? Let’s look at Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan.
- How many wars did Pakistan win against India, despite from the very beginning being heavily armed by the US as its close CENTO and SEATO ally?
- Why is Islamabad now arming the Pakistani armed forces with the Chinese copies or reverse engineered Soviet, Russian designed weapons?
The answers are simple, both Russia and China develop their weapons to take on the US military machine, infamous for destabilising and destroying multi-ethnic societies and states.