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India's Call for Arms
Is India’s Fighter Jets Deal a Sign of Weakness?

Last week, India agreed to purchase 36 new fighter planes from French company Dassault. The Financial Times says that the deal doesn’t reflect well on India:

But, while the initial reaction might be relief, the protracted negotiations and the reduction of the deal to a third of its original size underscores the long-running problems with Indian defence procurement, an even more pressing concern given rising tensions with Pakistan. And while Narendra Modi enjoys the credit for a deal he personally helped broker, the Indian prime minister must now also work out where he gets the 90 aircraft he chose not to buy.

“This is a major, major step forward for the Indian air force. This deal has dominated their thinking for a very long time, to the detriment of other programmes,” said Ajai Shukla, a retired Indian army colonel and defence analyst. “But the huge negative is that 36 aircraft is just not enough.”

As we wrote last week, India’s military is in need of an upgrade. We took an admittedly more positive view than the FT does, but their take isn’t wrong: Buying the planes is better than not buying them, but that’s about all one can say for this purchase. The FT has more dispiriting analysis to share:

Part of the problem, say military academics, is that the civilian-led Indian bureaucracy is not expert enough to make the right decisions to equip India’s armed services. Scandals such as Bofors — a corruption case over the purchase of artillery in the 1980s that was eventually dropped — have also led to a paralysis in decision making, argue some.

There are some bright spots in the military landscape. In August, India was said to be in discussions with Lockheed Martin as a possible location for the construction of F-16s. Rumor has it the deal would give Delhi partial control over who can buy the planes from Lockheed. That could hurt Pakistan, which relies on the F-16 platform.

Still, even that arrangement doesn’t solve any of the fundamental problems facing India’s military. With China projecting power in the Indian Ocean and Pakistan causing trouble up north, Delhi needs improved capabilities more than ever.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Does it really make sense to buy just 36 aircraft from an initial order of 108? Or is it more likely that that this was resolution of the disagreement about technology transfer and local content.

    • f1b0nacc1

      One rather important point left out of this discussion….the French aircraft are all nuclear capable pretty much out of the box, while the other candidates would have required modifications to carry nukes.

      • Andrew Allison

        TAI’s distaste for Modi causes accentuation (invention?) of the negative and minimization of the positive (if India’s having acquired the ability to deliver it’s nukes to Islamabad can be considered a positive). As I wrote previously, Pakistan had better hope that it’s military shadow government doesn’t start a war.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Absolute agreed (there we go again!)….
          Interestingly enough, I think that the Indians made a terrible choice in going with the Rafale, but given their desire to manufacture them domestically, and the relatively flexible attitude of the French when it comes to graft (they pay and don’t object too much), the fix was in from the start….

          • Andrew Allison

            But, as you noted in your comment, the Rafale is nuclear-capable out of the blocks. If Modi wanted a nuclear delivery vehicle ASAP, it was the logical (and, incidentally, least costly) choice. It also seems to be able to hold its own against the vaunted F-22 (https://warisboring.com/the-french-shot-down-u-s-stealth-fighter-f59db16282ca). Incidentally, I don’t think that US arms suppliers are any less “flexible” than their French counterparts.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Actually the Rafale isn’t a terribly good choice on any combat-related basis. The plane lacks any real value in BVR environments (if you take a look at the War is Boring article – I wouldn’t trust David Axe to order movie candy for me, must less assess modern aircraft – the Rafale ‘won’ in what looks to be a merge, not a conventional dogfight, and certainly not in the sort of BVR environment that an F-22 is designed for and is likely to engage in), has lousy electronics (exception, it does have an IRST option, which is long-overdue on American fighters), and has had a horrifically bad maintenance record. Personally I would have gone with some of the F-16E/F designs that are being mooted about were I the Indians, but I tend to favor American aircraft, so I admit a bias. The Gripen NG, would have been more than adequate, and in fact would have been a superlative choice for dealing with the Chinese (the real Indian threat, they Pakis aren’t taken too seriously these days), and even the Typhoon, though a tad dated wouldn’t have been a bad choice.
            Regarding the graft issue, there really isn’t a lot of doubt about this. The French are notorious for their willingness to pay to play (the Israelis have a good/bad reputation on this too), while the Americans, whatever their other flaws, are considered to be difficult to do business with regarding payments to cooperative procurement officials. The bad old days of Lockheed and the South Koreans are long past, and while there are plenty of bad habits that American defense contractors engage in, outright graft is only very rarely one of them.

          • Andrew Allison

            Isn’t the real issue how it compares with the CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder, supposedly roughly equivalent to the F-16? I suspect that there were two over-riding considerations: nuclear capability and local, i.e. immune to US export sanctions, manufacturing.
            You’ll forgive me, I trust, for my suspicion that US defense contractors do as the Romans do (http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2015/September/pages/USCrackingDownonDefenseIndustryCorruptionOverseas.aspx).

          • f1b0nacc1

            The JF-17 is roughly similar to the early F-16s (Block 10/20), which in turn wouldn’t last very long against almost any modern fighter, especially if flow by decent pilots (and the Indians are typically well-regarded in this sense). As for your assessment of the overriding conditions, I couldn’t agree with you more, but let me add that technology transfer and the willingness to let the Indians build some domestically (were I an Indian air force pilot, I would NOT fly in those!) are also extremely important considerations.
            I don’t trust most defense contractors in the US either, but typically they don’t bother with outright bribes these days….particularly in aircraft sales. The US is hardly blameless here, I agree, but compared to the Europeans (particularly the French), they are stainless souls.

          • Andrew Allison

            Is that like being a little bit pregnant [grin]. Can we just agree that the corruption in the arms sales business is just a matter of degree?

          • f1b0nacc1

            This is roughly akin to suggesting that the difference between Bernie Saunders and Stalin was one of degree (not sure who that is unfair to, but it is to one of them….grin…)….
            Lets agree to disagree, occasionally that is a good thing…

          • Andrew Allison

            One of the pleasures of exchanging ideas with you is that we can civilly agree to disagree. Speaking which, saundering [grin] down another path we might discus whether the difference between Sanders and Stalin is a matter of degree or of the implementation schedule. The essence of socialism is the primacy of the State. Bernie’s ideas of how to implement that might, at first blush, seem to be less brutal, but the precept is the same and what’s happening on college campuses should be of concern. As yet another aside, why do you suppose it is that Jews are so inclined toward an ideology (socialism) which has been so hostile to them?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Thank you for your kind words, I hope you know that I feel the same way…

            Stalin was more open about his intentions, Bernie is just better housebroken. As evil as Stalin was (and he stands among the top three villians in a dark century indeed), there is a lurking evil in Bernie and what he represents that is far more frightening. Our modern progs are often less of an immediate threat, but I wonder (and am not optimistic) about the future. As you have seen me say here before, being a lefty means never having to say you are sorry, and I fear that until we as a society stop letting the left off the hook for their actions, we will encourage them to broaden and deepen their influence. Just because Bernie is less overly threatening than Stalin does not mean he is less of a menace in the long run, or that he shouldn’t be made to answer for the consequences of his beliefs.

            With that said, let me make a guess about socialism and Jews, drawing upon one part of my family (perhaps unrepresentative?) as the basis for my thoughts. Jews (and really I am talking about the Ashkenazis) have deep roots in a Europe where they were seen as scholars and thinkers. Socialism is to my way of thinking, the opiate of the intellectuals, thus making an adherence to it a cultural version of virtue signalling. Despite the fact that Jews are (as a group) often far more successful economically than the population as a whole, they tend to want the ‘respectability’ of being seen as intellectuals, as scholars best of all. Hence the embrace of socialism…

            Of course I could be wrong….(grin)…

          • Andrew Allison

            Might I suggest that Stalin was no more open about his intentions before he assumed power than Bernie or, more dangerously in my mind, Fauxcahontas are. I think that you are mistaken about the threat which thinkers (regardless of their religion) represent to socialism. Churchill said it best: Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal [unless you’re part of the nomenklatura] sharing of misery. I would hope that Jews, although Sanders gives me pause, have learned the useful idiots lesson.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Stalin was an out and out revolutionary as a young man, and during his rise to power was rarely subtle about his means or his ends. Bernie might be clumsy as a speaker (he reminds me of the Finsbury Park soapboxers, but that is another matter), but he tries (often unsuccessfully) to disguise himself as a liberal, rather than what he truly is. Yes, you are right about Warren, and I agree that she is more dangerous if only because she appeals to the political class as ‘one of them’…

            Thinkers don’t represent a threat to socialism, they represent a threat FROM socialism. Churchill’s quote was an interesting one, but ultimately he took socialists at their word (perhaps with the Fabians, that was more of a reasonable thing), and thus accepted their proferred face. Socialism appeals to intellectuals because it emphasizes planning and control, and they assume that in a ‘scientific state’ they (the intellectuals) would inevitably be in control. Our political class loves that idea….they resent the notion that businessmen have power merely by virtue of their wealth why the educated (and more worthy) sorts do not. Elizabeth Warren’s “You didn’t build that” quote is a perfect example of this…and a direct appeal to the frustrated vanity of most intellectuals.

          • Andrew Allison

            I think that Lenin and Trotsky would disagree that Stalin was unsubtle. Regarding thinkers and socialism, I have two words for you: Frederic Bastiat.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Regarding Stalin, both Lenin and Trotsky thought he was a boor and a barbarian (Lenin in particular), though both failed to take him seriously. It likely cost Lenin his life (if one believes the various rumors), and it certainly did so for Trotsky.
            Regarding thinkers and socialism, let me suggest that we are arguing semantics…for ‘thinkers’, replace it with ‘intellectuals’….I did not mean to suggest that thinking people embraced socialism, but self-styled intellectuals certainly do…

          • Andrew Allison

            So, we’re agreed that Stalin concealed his objectives until it was no longer necessary to do so [grin].
            You’ve introduced a qualifier in the form of “self-styled” intellectual. My argument was that anybody who fails to see the inherent fallacy (elegantly expressed by Churchill), of socialism is not, in fact, an intellectual but either stupid or a slave to ideology. Bernie is a perfect example: if he doesn’t understand how socialism treats Jews, he’s stupid; if he does he’s abominable. Warren is a different kettle of fish: as her history of falsifying her ethnicity demonstrates she, like Hillary, will do anything to achieve power.
            Sadly, however, I must agree with her denunciation of Stumpf. If he, or the board of directors, had a shred of integrity, he’d be gone.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Churchill was talking about a whole different bunch of socialists (the Fabians) than we are confronting today. HG Wells, is a simple example…a very bright man in his own field, but utterly blind outside of it. He was by any reasonable standard, an intellectual, but not much of a thinker.
            Bernie strikes me as both stupid (I have met the man, and trust me…he is NOT bright) and abominable. Warren is an HRC wannabe, which is appalling on so many levels I am absolutely aghast. She is right about Stumpf, but then again, Hitler was right about the autobahns…nobody is always wrong….

      • GS

        well, whatever the external shape and the electrical/electronic links configuration of the Indian nukes iare, the chances are they are different from the French ones. Hence some tweaking will be in order anyway.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Unquestionably yes, but there is an enormous difference between tweaking connections and rebuilding a subsystem, which is what we are talking about here. The export versions of the F-16, for instance, are designed to make the release of nuclear weapons difficult without a fairly extensive rebuild.

          • GS

            Depends on the inner structure of these nukes. A very primitive nuke would have a minimal “arming” external connection and aside of it could be handled just like a gravity bomb.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Yes, and a very primitive nuke would also be rather large and (tend) to be difficult to mount on any high-performance aircraft.
            For purposes of this discussion, lets remember we are talking about Indian nukes, which are likely quite similar to 2nd generation American fission/fusion/fission designs. With this in mind, unless you were interested in putting together something with only crude external connections for its own sake (and that means that the Indians would have to be willing to have almost no safety precautions on their bombs), you would have to assume that the electronics on the bomb would require support similar to what we see on existing ‘nuclear capable’ aircraft.

          • GS

            I am not in the Indian weapons program, so my guess on it is as good as yours. What they have is possible to put as the warheads on their rockets- i.e. the devices are in the range of 1 metric ton, no more than 2. It should be perfectly possible to configure such device for a delivery by plane, and all electronic links could be accomplished by a simple multi-wire cable which would be gravity disconnected by the bomb release. But let them think over it, that’s what they are paid for.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Unlike you, I do have some experience in this area, and it is nowhere near as simple as you make it out to be. The Indians have (up until now at least) been willing to go through a LOT of trouble to mate nukes to missiles (the fact that they couldn’t get them to work reliably with the Brahmos that they ended up co-developing with the Russians should tell you quite a bit), and they continue to run into all sorts of reliability issues directly related to these problems. As a side issue, it is a substantially different problem to build an air-delivered weapon as opposed to one you mount on a missile, and as counterintuitive as it sounds, the missile warheads are by far the easier design…

    • Observe&Report

      It’s the latter.

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