Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Expect Rafale to Fly the Indian Elite to 'Global High Table'

In the 1950s, two schools of thought emerged in the US strategic landscape - The ‘deterrent’ school and ‘war-fighting’ school. The disagreement lay in their divergent approaches. The war-fighting or ‘massive retaliation’ school represented by General Curtis LeMay and the US Air Force advocated maximum use of nuclear weapons sans restraint. The ‘deterrence’ school led by  a small group of civilians - Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Albert Wohlstetter and a handful of others from Rand corporation saw nuclear bombs not just as military weapons but as a political tool too. While the American civilian strategists saw nuclear weapons as political tools - many in the Indian strategic community see even the conventional weaponry as a political weapon. 


The bizarre argument, currently floating in the Indian strategic circles wonders how India could buy its future fighter aircraft based exclusively on technical grounds, completely overlooking the strategy needs. Reacting to the Indian Air Force’s decision to award Dassault Aviation the MMRCA contract, an Indian analyst posits, “Ideally, the Indian decision should have been guided by a strategy that balances reducing danger and broadening opportunity. Accordingly, the question for New Delhi should have been how to use this lucrative deal to beef up India’s strategic options. Thus, it is probably a strategic blunder to narrowly focus on technical specifications and capabilities alone, as many proponents of the IAF’s choice have done.” 


The problem with many of the Anglo-Saxon Chanakyas’ is that they were desperately hoping that this ‘mother of all’ arms deal would catapult Indo-US ties to an unprecedented level – making India a much better ally of the US than even the UK. When the F-16 was rejected, they were palpably dejected. Then in the next phase, when the U.K. led consortium selling Eurofighter Typhoon too failed to make the mark, it became hard to digest. After all, how could the men in uniform decide the course of Indian foreign policy? 


Unfortunately, it is the same set of ideologues who had earlier opposed India buying armaments from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Their opposition then was based on the argument that it was political and not technical consideration that led Indians closer to the communist block.


India is the biggest  importer of arms in the world. India holds the purse strings - why should New Delhi be the sucker - overlook its own needs to save some dwindling economies of the West. Much to the chagrin of sympathizers of Indo-US strategic ties, the IAF aircraft evaluation sheet had no column indicating the number of jobs a particular fighter would create in its home nation nor did the form contain the names of politicians whose fortunes were directly linked to the aircraft sale. 


The IAF’s agenda was simple - select the aircraft that is best suited to Indian needs -  is commercially viable for the exchequer over prolonged period – would help India hone its aircraft manufacturing skills. To evaluate the products put up by six aerospace corporations, the IAF trained six dedicated teams consisting of pilots and maintainers that assesed each aircraft through 660 different angles. For the first time, the Indian pilots flew each aircraft that was under consideration, twisting and turning them to the specified paramaetrs. A stringent evaluation procedure was evolved by the air force that is the best in the world and could easily be patended.  


We are living the 21st century and not in the 50s, when India was almost forced and fooled to buy British equipment rendered redundant at the end of WWII. India is the buyer - it is our prerogative to choose the aircraft that we deem fit and that choice ultimately rests with the armed forces -  the end user of the product. The imported warplanes are meant to help the air warriors defend India’ security and act as a deterrent to keep India’s policy options open. They are certainly not meant to fly certain sections of the Indian elite to the ‘global high table’.