Indirectly expressing his country's surprise over the Indian Government and its defence establishment's decision to go ahead with its reported plan to buy 126 Rafale combat aircraft from France, Russia's Ambassador to India, Alexander M. Kadakin, said the Dassault Aviation-manufactured fighter aircraft could be shot down like a mosquito by a Chinese-manufactured or produced Sukhoi jet should there ever be a conflict in the neighbourhood.
Ambassador Kadakin, who was attending an interaction between Russian and Indian journalists in the national capital yesterday, said, "We (Russia) are still very surprised that Rafale is being bought, because if the Rafale is intended to oppose Pakistani or Chinese planes, then the Sukhoi which the Chinese produce, or mobilizes, but which is only 50 percent of the Sukhoi which you (India) produce, then even for the Chinese Sukhoi, these Rafales will be like mosquitoes on an August night. They will be shot down like mosquitoes. That's why I don't understand why...."
Rafale had won the bid to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. In July this year, Indian media reported that the Ministry of Defence is continuing its final negotiations for acquiring these aircraft for almost USD 20 billion.
The negotiations, which have been protracted and complex, are reportedly at a final stage, with over 50 per cent of the final contract as well as the inter-governmental agreement, and all that reportedly remains is for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to give its political approval for the inking of the contract. Ambassador Kadakin, however, said that he or the Russian Government must not be misunderstood on the issue.
"There were some reports about difficulties. Of course, if you mobilize funds to buy Rafales, which has become from 10 million U.S. dollars to 23 million U.S. dollars (in terms of cost), then it is another story. That is a story of mobilizing finance and resources. But it doesn't have to affect the (sale or purchase of) fifth generation aircrafts," he said.
"The fifth generation aircraft, work is going according to schedule, and there were no problems reported about the designing work which carried out now by Indian and Russian scientists. Work is going according to schedule, and there were no complaints. There were some negotiations about the share of designing work. We understand India has already accumulated good experience in designing aircrafts, and that is why we were thinking of doing it fifty-fifty. But this has to be now specified and elaborated on paper because there are certain fields of aircraft building industry where India is not yet ready completely to take up responsibility for designing it. This can be done jointly by Indian and Russian designers and engineers," Ambassador Kadakin added.
Taking an apparent dig at New Delhi's reported shift towards acquiring weapons from the United States, Ambassador Kadakin said, "When people start speculating around world, U.S. their technology, and that there would be much more military supplies, all that, you understand, it is all just hullabaloo, it's all hype, it's not much technology coming from them (U.S.) to India. Or, should that be corrected, zero technology is coming from U.S to India."
He took pains to highlight Russia's contribution to India's defence sector over the years. "At the same time, India is building Russian Sukhoi 30s in Pune, India is producing the world's best cruise missile Brahmos, India is navigating in the open waters in nuclear powered submarines (Akula-II class). India is building Kudankulam with our help. These are the real facts, and wrong are those doomsayers," the Russian envoy said.
Once the project is finalized, the first 18 jets are to be delivered to IAF within 36-48 months, while the rest 108 will be manufactured by HAL with transfer of technology over the next seven years. In July, then British Foreign Secretary William Hague lobbied hard for the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is backed by UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, in his meetings with the Narendra Modi Government. Germany is also learnt to have renewed the push for Typhoons.
The U.S. lobby reportedly still hopes that either the F/A-18 'Super Hornet' or the F-16 'Super Viper' can fly back into the MMRCA competition. But the Indian defence establishment is quite clear there can be "no comebacks" in the ongoing MMRCA project. With IAF down to 34 fighter squadrons, when at least 44 are required, IAF has identified the MMRCA project as its "topmost priority" for the NDA Government.
The event was organized at the Press Club of India. The club's president, Anand Sahay, used the opportunity of the interaction to highlight the need for a greater exchange of views between journalists and media houses of the two nations. He said that media of both countries must play significant roles in a wide and broad range of spheres, and not just restrict themselves to geo-political or strategic coverage.