The stalemate between the Indian government and French aircraft manufacturing company Dassault over the supply of 126 fourth-generation Rafale fighter jets, was not so much because of pricing as much as the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL) competence to deliver on quality, top Indian Air Force sources have revealed to The Quint.
Two reports by the then American ambassador to India Timothy Roemer and teams of specialists from Dassault, raised critical questions about low quality standards at the HAL, and constitute the likely reason behind the Narendra Modi government’s decision to let Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence seal the deal with the French aircraft manufacturing major.
“HAL Not Competent to Partner With”
Defence Ministry sources said that Roemer and Dassault, as well as top IAF officers, agree that quality would have been compromised had the HAL been the Indian partner of the French manufacturer.
Roemer’s confidential report to the then US administration under President Barack Obama, just before his tenure as ambassador ended in 2011, said in clear terms that the HAL was not competent to be a partner of either of the two American companies – Boeing and Lockheed Martin – that were keen to bid for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), purely because it did not meet the quality standards the two US giants sought.
After some French government officials were able to “lay their hands” on Roemer’s report, Dassault executives and specialists sought permission from the Defence Ministry, then under the stewardship of AK Antony of the Congress-led UPA, to visit HAL’s factory in Nashik where the Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter jets were being produced at the time.
“Dassault Couldn’t Risk Global Reputation”
Once permission was granted, based on Dassault’s study of HAL’s Nashik facility the French government conveyed their displeasure over quality control once it was discovered that there were production-related problems over the manufacture of the SU-30s. Dassault’s conclusion was that the company “could not risk its global reputation” by partnering with the HAL, as the latter’s production facilities in Nashik were “in shambles,” according to top IAF sources.
Dassault submitted its report to the French government in early 2014.
The IAF sources said that at the time, Antony reacted sharply and took the stand that the French government could not change its decision on the Rafale aircraft.
However, the UPA government had little option in the face of Roemer and Dassault’s “scathing” reports.
The sources recalled that talks between the French and Indian governments for the supply of 36 fighter aircraft began a year after the Modi government assumed power in May 2014. By that time, the acquisition of 126 MMRCA aircraft was in a “logjam” primarily because of the HAL’s quality issues.
In April 2015, there was a government-to-government in-principle decision that India would purchase 36 Rafale aircraft in “fly away” condition, and that there would be no manufacturing in India. The final contract was signed in September 2016, with an exclusive clause that there would be no technology transfer to India.