India’s multi-billion tender process to buy 126 advanced warplanes was doomed from the start because UPA defence minister AK Antony had put a “question mark” on the deal, defence minister Manohar Parrikar has said.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Parrikar questioned the medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) tendering process, picking holes in the method employed to determine French firm Dassault Aviation as the lowest bidder (L1) in the final round of the competition. According to the defence minister, the UPA government had taken hold of the “wrong end of the stick”.
India has scrapped the $25-billion deal more than three years after Dassault, which manufactures the Rafale, was declared the lowest bidder, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi opting instead to buy 36 of these jets from France in a fly-away condition under a government-to-government (G2G) contract.
“The previous defence minister had himself put a question mark (on the deal’s future) by saying go for price negotiations (with L1) but after that, review the procedure by which L1 was determined… It’s a funny statement… Concluding the deal would have been extremely difficult for us,” Parrikar told HT in his Kota House suite on the eve of a four-day visit to South Korea. Attired in a familiar blue bush shirt, Parrikar said the L1 figure in the fighter contract was determined by factoring in a questionable life-cycle cost model.
The Rafale had beaten stiff competition from the Eurofighter Typhoon to emerge the frontrunner for the contract in January 2012. Six fighters took part in the contest.
Parrikar said the request for proposal (tender) was probably not a great document as it left a lot to “interpretation and imagination.”
He said it wasn’t prudent to take the tender route to buy critical platforms such as warplanes.
“How do you compare various varieties of planes? You may take a benchmark and say these two (fighters) are above the benchmark, but again how do you compare a particular missile with another missile?” said Parrikar. He said even if multiple fighter platforms met the IAF’s requirements of combat radius, rate of climb and angle of attack, the type and number of missiles fitted on the planes could make the difference in their “effective operation”.
“I believe such strategic platforms (in a non-nuclear sense) cannot be compared with each other that easily. Suppose one costs a million dollars more than the other but has a more effective missile. Technically, it may be costlier but it is better as it has longer stand-off range,” he said, suggesting the G2G route for “strategic” buys.
The usually amiable Parrikar could not resist taking a dig at Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who ridiculed him on Twitter for buying fish in Goa when Modi was ordering fighters in France. “Digvijaya Singh should eat fish. It will sharpen his brains,” Parrikar said.
Parrikar moved to an Akbar Road residence on Wednesday after staying in the navy’s Kota House for four months.
Read: More Rafales required but need to factor in cost: Parrikar