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Emergency procurement tells the sad reality of India’s defence purchases. Rafale’s late too

A Rafale fighter jet, manufactured by Dassault Aviation SA
A Rafale fighter jet, manufactured by Dassault Aviation SA | Jason Alden | Bloomberg

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The wait for the much-anticipated Rafale fighter jets — the most high profile defence acquisition India has seen in at least two decades — is finally coming to an end. Five of the 36 jets that were ordered have landed in India and more will be inducted in the IAF in the months to come.

Their landing at the Ambala Air Base Wednesday became a cause of celebration for the entire country, and rightly so. After all, it was the first induction of a full-fledged fighter aircraft in over 20 years.

However, beneath this celebration lies the harsh reality of India’s painfully slow defence purchases. The Rafale deal and a plethora of procurement, now being done under the emergency clause in the wake of tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), exposes the malaise that continues to shadow India’s defence procurement and planning.

There is nothing to be proud of in the purchase of Rafales. The project to acquire the new generation fighter jets has taken 19 years to see the light of the day.

Rafales alone would not fulfill the Indian Air Force’s demand for new generation fighters. According to a previous proposal, the IAF was to get 126 jets under Make in India and not 36.

It has taken 5 years for the first 5 jets to land in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced it in April 2015 during his trip to France.

The eventual contract was done late 2016, which shows the time taken despite it being Modi’s top priority. This proves how complex the defence procurement process in India is.

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