The successful ending of the selling of 36 Dassault’s Rafale to India has nothing to do with chance or with India’s security environment’s conjuncture. It is instead the result of a long term strategic endeavor, of which some lessons could be learned to improve French defense industry’s export perspectives.
To begin with, India adopted French warplanes as soon as 1953 and has gone on since, from the Ouragan to the Jaguar and the Mirage 2000. Throughout its troubled contemporary history, New Delhi has experienced the need to possess a state-of-the-art Air Force equipped with reliable and performing aircrafts. In 1999, during the Indo-Pakistani conflict for Kargil in the Jammu-and-Kashmir province, also known as the ‘Siachen Glacier war’ and conducted as high as 16.000 feet, Indian Mirage 2000 made the difference by destroying key objectives: strategic replenishment infrastructures, Pakistani regiments HQ, etc. At the time, Indian pilots used high-precision laser-guided bombs for the first time in their history. Ever since, the Mirage 2000 has benefited from an unrivalled reputation, either regarding its performances or its reliability. A situation that led the Indian Air Force to act a modernization of its 51 Mirage 2000H in July 2011 – a deal estimated to €1,7 billion.
In the meantime, the competition launched in 2001 by New Delhi to acquire 126 Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts went on. In 2011, Dassault’s Rafale, benefitting from its combat-proven polyvalence and reliability after the Afghan and Libyan campaigns, was selected by the Indian Air Force after a long series of tests against all of its competitors – Typhoon, MiG 35, FA 18 NG/IN, F16 NG/In, Gripen NG/IN.
In May 2015, the new Indian administration decided to reshuffle the whole contract, but a reduction of scale did not put into question the decision to purchase a set of Rafale anyway.
The decision made by India, a major power in our 21st century, which population will soon be more numerous than China’s, confirms the strategic partnership established between Paris and New Delhi. It also testifies the quality and credibility of French savoir-faire when it comes to modern military equipments to be used in combat by the most advanced forces.
Let us remember that not so long ago, many critiques were thrown to the French Rafale suggesting the ‘impossibility’ to export it: it was too expensive, too complicated, too much of everything! Fortunately, the French team composed of the Minister of Defense, the industrial cluster led by Dassault, the French Military Procurement Agency (DGA) and the French Air Force for the operational side, never gave up. Instead, it went on relentlessly, accumulating feedbacks from operational engagements, building mutual trust with its partners and supporting the trade offer.
According to a French expression, ‘one does not build his house asking advice from passers-by’. The French team managed to keep a steady flight, and there are now many reasons to be proud of it.