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A French navy Rafale manufactured by France's Dassault Aviation. The Rafale beat out the Eurofighter, made by a consortium of German, British, Italian and Spanish aerospace firms, to win the $20-billion (U.S.) contract to supply 126 combat aircraft for the Indian air force. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP/Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)
A French navy Rafale manufactured by France's Dassault Aviation. The Rafale beat out the Eurofighter, made by a consortium of German, British, Italian and Spanish aerospace firms, to win the $20-billion (U.S.) contract to supply 126 combat aircraft for the Indian air force. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP/Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)

A dogfight over Delhi Add to ...

More recently, stalled deals in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates had put Dassault under intense pressure to give the Indians an attractive price, particularly on the lifetime cost of supporting and upgrading the aircraft. Gérard Longuet, defence minister, threatened to end Rafale production unless a foreign sale was secured.

“Sarko is willing to give them whatever [technology]they want,” says a French defence industry executive. “It’s fair to say the technology has been around a while now so is not quite leading-edge. Remember we were talking about selling the Rafale to [Moammar]Gadhafi in Libya, so there are no qualms really.”

Internal critiques on how the deal was lost will almost certainly heap blame on Germany – and, in some quarters, deepen existing regret that Britain, India’s former colonial master, did not take the lead role in a more dynamic bid.

The German-led bid was excessively technical and lacked glossy display of what the Typhoon could do in conflicts, according to one critic. While Dassault’s bid was captured in 20 pages, Eurofighter’s ran to 150.

“The German government was very German. It helped as best it thought it could,” explains one Berlin official. “But it was always trammelled by German public aversion to arms sales, and by the fact that it doesn’t pursue a statist industrial policy like Paris … The fact that some countries do packages and the Germans don’t is a fact you have to accept.”

Yet the most outspoken criticism has come from analysts who believe that India should leap straight to 5th-generation “stealth” fighters with Russian Pak-Fa and American F-35 and F-22 fighters.

“It’s a terrible deal,” says Ajai Shukla, defence columnist for India’s Business Standard newspaper and a fierce critic of India’s sluggish procurement processes.

“The air force has been tempted into buying an outdated fighter. We should be matching our capabilities against China. Our military advantage over China is our air power.”

Additional reporting by Gerrit Wiesmann and Carola Hoyos.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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