India’s air force has long needed an upgrade, and now it’s about to get one. Delhi is all set to purchase thirty-six new fighter jets at a cost of $8 billion from French company Dassault, the FT reports:
The deal brings to an end one of the most coveted international arms deals in recent years. At its start, four international defence companies — Dassault, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the BAE-led Eurofighter consortium — were vying to supply New Delhi with 126 new jets.
The Indian government chose the Rafales in 2012, with the French asking for $20bn. Negotiations quickly became bogged down in disagreements over both the price and how much construction would be done in India.
The deal looked close to collapse last year when the French refused to transfer the technology to India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd for 108 of the jets to be builtin India. But part of it was salvaged when Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, personally intervened, announcing that New Delhi would buy 36 aircraft “off the shelf” from France.
The air force has been eyeing Pakistan and China with unease, noting their increasing capabilities and worrying that India doesn’t have the technological prowess to defend itself or to conduct important missions. An analysis in the Lowy Interpreter from a year ago estimated that “about 79% of India’s combat aircraft squadrons and 96% of its main battle tanks are of Soviet-design.” And it’s even worse the closer you look:
In his 2011 report on the MMRCA deal, Dogfight, American analyst Ashley Tellis suggested that, ‘in terms of raw numbers alone, the IAF must plan on confronting by 2020 as many as 1,500 fourth-generation Pakistani and Chinese fighters’. Even if we generously assume that India can stay at 37 squadrons around that date, that would still be around half of that number of aircraft. Chinese participation in an India-Pakistan war is not necessarily likely, but India would be negligent not to consider the possibility and allocate air defence assets accordingly. And as academic Walter Ladwig explored in an excellent paper earlier this year, India’s superiority over Pakistan in modern aircraft has fallen from 4:1 in the early 2000s to less than 2.5:1 today. That ratio is likely to fall further.
The bottom line is that the demands on India’s military are likely to become greater as the arms race in Asia continues, and particularly if the United States is no longer willing or able to play the role of regional balancer that it has for the past twenty-five years. India’s military has been promising to modernize for years now, but a lot of the upgrades so far have been criticized by experts as little more than what’s necessary to tread water. Buying new aircraft is somewhat more than that, although it’s only the beginning of what military analysts say India will need to be competitive in the region.