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.