Monday, February 27, 2012

My interview with the Voice of Russia ....


Here's an interview of mine with the Voice of Russia on the developments in Asia Pacific including US-China relations, the new Chinese leadership.

Burning Point → Asian Pacific region: Cooperation or confrontation

What are the strategies of major regional players? How successful have they been in expanding their ties with other countries in the region? And what is it that we are going to witness there – the development of the working relationship, or rather a stand-off, between China and US over the control of the Asia Pacific?

We’ve been looking into the issue with the help from Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, India, and Alexander Gabuyev, expert on China and participant of the UN Millenium Program.

To hear the full interview, click here.

The text of the interview is available here.



Today we’ll be focusing on the Asian Pacific region – a location that has been playing an increasingly important role in the global politics and hence, has become an arena of growing competition between two of the world powers – China and the US.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Delhi has shown a lack of strategic vision by choosing the Rafale fighter aircraft


Here is an article of mine on the recent MMRCA decision published by The Economic Times. I have argued that GoI underplayed the importance of strategic interests and went ahead with the risk free option of relying on technical inputs alone to make one of the most high profile defence deals.

India's long and convoluted search for a new fighter plane - a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) - has entered its final stage. New Delhi has just announced that the Rafale, built by Dassault Aviation of France, has been chosen to meet the Indian Air Force's (IAF) requirement. Only price negotiation now remains.

For the full article, click here.



The Rafale had been shortlisted along with the Eurofighter Typhoon from a field that originally included four more jets: the US-built F-16 and F-18, the Russian MiG-35 and the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen. But though the fight over the selection is over, questions about the wisdom of New Delhi's choice are unlikely to end any time soon.

Commenting on the MMRCA decision, a former IAF officer proudly stated that this was probably the first decision that was made purely on technical grounds. If accurate, this reveals serious strategic shortsightedness. While the government should have received inputs from the IAF, such a decision should not have been taken on purely technical grounds. For India's decision-makers, limiting themselves to technical specifications was a risk-free option, but that reveals more about the state of strategic decision-making in Delhi than the wisdom of the choice they made.

Ideally, the Indian decision should have been guided by a strategy that balances reducing danger and broadening opportunity. Accordingly, the question for New Delhi should have been how to use this lucrative deal to beef up India's strategic options. Thus, it is probably a strategic blunder to narrowly focus on technical specifications and capabilities alone, as many proponents of the IAF's choice have done.

A decision of this magnitude should have been filtered through three key parameters: strategic, operational and tactical. A pragmatic strategy would have been to analyse the risk and opportunity through these three parameters and then make the final decision about which of the fighter plane choices would have best advanced Indian security. In strategic and geopolitical terms, France can provide little help to India in either Asia or in the global theatre. While France has always been a well-wisher, it has never had much capacity to help India. For example, though France wanted to sell India nuclear reactors, it could do little to change the nuclear non-proliferation rules that prevented it from doing so. It took Washington to change these rules to India's benefit.

Additionally, numbers (of aircraft India could acquire) and cost should have been factored in. Buying fewer but more expensive aircraft might make some fighter jocks happy, but having greater numbers might be more relevant to a country like India which faces a two-front threat from China and Pakistan. It was often argued in the MMRCA debate that maintaining air superiority required technological superiority, range and payload but an equally important consideration is that of numbers.

Numerical superiority in India's regional context is of particular significance given that the current strength of India's fighter jets is only around 600, and unless replenished, it will reach critically low numbers soon. Meanwhile, both Beijing and Islamabad have been augmenting their fighter fleets. India could have procured far greater numbers of fighters with the US or Russian option.

Though the probability of a two-front war is low, no pragmatic Indian strategic decision-maker should rule it out. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that the Indian army is raising new forces to deploy on the China border. It is unclear if the technological superiority of the Rafale is so great as to compensate for the smaller numbers that India will have to settle for.

Cost should have also had an important role in the MMRCA decision. India's decision to go for Rafale is going to cost New Delhi around $20 billion, if not more. Opting for a Russian or US jet would have been far cheaper. The Russian option would have been the least expensive whereas the American fighters would have been somewhere in the middle with the European jets being the most expensive. In overall terms, the American F-18s would have been the best given that they (as well as the F-16s) came with the second-generation AESA radars.

Lastly, the most important consideration should have been the strategic benefits that accrue to India through this deal. Indian decision-makers should have been mindful of the fact that this deal was as much about making strategic investments in a relationship as simply buying fighters. India does not enjoy a benign neighbourhood, and these security needs are important. But India also needs to balance these with its requirements as a rising power, which means having capable friends. The MMRCA deal was a great opportunity to consolidate its strategic ties with either Russia or the US, or even with both. Instead, New Delhi has ended up antagonising both of them.

The standard response that India has signed many other defence contracts with both Russia and the US does not wash because this was a very different and high-profile deal which was closely watched around the world. Signing smaller deals, even if they add up to significant amounts, does not have the same weight as the MMRCA deal. New Delhi needs to be more careful in both understanding strategic moments and being able to exploit them if it wants to sit at the global high table.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

India has made powerful enemies by selecting Dassault ... my take on the MMRCA decision in yesterday's Pioneer ....


Here's my OpEd on the recent MMRCA decision in yesterday's Pioneer. India is not likely to bow to Anglo-American pressure to revisit the MMRCA decision in favour of Dassault-Rafale. By deciding on the basis of technical parameters alone, India satisfied its own needs, but quite ignored the diplomatic fall out.



Price negotiation is what remains of the crucial MMRCA deal. It’s a complicated process. Nevertheless, it appears unlikely that the decision to buy the Rafale itself will be revisited. Given how drawn-out and difficult the choice was, the government is unlikely to add further controversy by admitting it made a mistake, which will be the consequence if the MMRCA competition is reopened. The selection apparently involved testing the platforms on around 600 odd technical parameters. This is the key argument made by proponents of the deal: that the deal was so carefully and technically handled that it should not be questioned.

But the premise that technical factors are all that matters is not defensible especially for such a large and politically important deal. While the technical qualifications are an important set of elements that should go into while making a decision, this has also brought to the fore how strategic factors were underplayed in this critical deal.

A decision made purely on technical parameters seems like the decision makers in India were opting for an easy, risk free option. This is understandable in the domestic political context. The single most important political concern today is about corruption in administrative decisions. Given the importance of this issue in public perception, and particularly given the many corruption scandals that have come out over the last year, it is not surprising that the government wants to play it safe. And the easiest way to play it safe is to leave political discretion out by letting the IAF make a purely technical decision.

Indian military services are known for their thoroughness in assessing weapons systems. Clearly the IAF did a good job of picking what was the best fighter from its perspective. But while the Rafale might have been the best from a

technical standpoint, it is not clear that it was diplomatically and strategically a good choice.

A strategic perspective should have looked at which of the countries fighting for the contract was most useful to India. This is not just about who wants good relations with India or who is a well-wisher because all of the competitors were good friends of India and were India’s well-wishers.

Where they were different was in terms of which could do more for India. This should have been a purely cold, hard assessment. Such an assessment would have put the US and Russia as the top choices. While the European consortium and Sweden would probably have brought up in the back of this list, France would have been somewhere in the middle. It definitely has greater global weight than Sweden and probably a better bet than a consortium of several countries, but it would have been no match for the US or Russia.

Of course, this should not have been the only consideration. Strategic and diplomatic reasons alone should not decide which fighter jet was picked. India’s decision-makers should have also looked at the different technical capabilities of the various competing planes. In fact, the final choice should have been a combination of the technical merits and the political and strategic requirements. And this is the key criticism if the manner in which India has chosen to make the deal — using only technical parameters to make a choice and ignoring diplomatic and strategic factors.

Considering how big this contract was, India could have received significant political benefits, which it stands to lose by making a technical decision. Even France could very well make the argument that there is no political quid pro quo for India choosing the Rafale because India itself claims that this was not a political choice. There is little reason why France has to give any political support for a decision that was purely technical in nature.

This leaves India in the politically the worst position possible — both the US and Russia, politically far more significant than France on global issues, are unhappy with India, but India is unlikely to get much benefit from France despite picking the French plane. And unlike Britain, which is also unhappy about the Indian decision, the US and Russia matter quite a lot in the global arena. So, India has effectively annoyed more important friends for nothing.

There are other factors in addition to the strategic factor that also needs closer examination. The cost factor itself is a serious issue. The unit cost of the plane is only one factor. The cost — acquisition, lifecycle and maintenance cost — should have been an important determinant in this decision. As against hundred odd Rafale, India could have procured many more Russian or US fighter jets for the same value. The Rafale option has cost India dearly both on the acquisition as well as the cost of spare parts.

Thus, though there may have been good reasons for picking the Rafale from a technical point of view, or even from a domestic political perspective, this is not enough. The choice should have at least considered the strategic implications in such a big contract.

That might still have led to the Rafale being picked, but it would have been a more defensible decision.

Flying into rough weather .... My OpEd on India's MMRCA decision in ToI


Here's a piece of mine on India's MMRCA decision that appeared in Times of India on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.

New Delhi needs to be more careful in both understanding strategic moments and being able to exploit them if it wants to sit at the global high table.



India's long and convoluted search for a new fighter plane - a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) - has entered its final stage. New Delhi has just announced that the Rafale, built by Dassault Aviation of France, has been chosen to meet the Indian Air Force's (IAF) requirement. Only price negotiation now remains.

The Rafale had been shortlisted along with the Eurofighter Typhoon from a field that originally included four more jets: the US-built F-16 and F-18, the Russian MiG-35 and the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen. But though the fight over the selection is over, questions about the wisdom of New Delhi's choice are unlikely to end any time soon.

Commenting on the MMRCA decision, a former IAF officer proudly stated that this was probably the first decision that was made purely on technical grounds. If accurate, this reveals serious strategic shortsightedness. While the government should have received inputs from the IAF, such a decision should not have been taken on purely technical grounds. For India's decision-makers, limiting themselves to technical specifications was a risk-free option, but that reveals more about the state of strategic decision-making in Delhi than the wisdom of the choice they made.

Ideally, the Indian decision should have been guided by a strategy that balances reducing danger and broadening opportunity. Accordingly, the question for New Delhi should have been how to use this lucrative deal to beef up India's strategic options. Thus, it is probably a strategic blunder to narrowly focus on technical specifications and capabilities alone, as many proponents of the IAF's choice have done.

A decision of this magnitude should have been filtered through three key parameters: strategic, operational and tactical. A pragmatic strategy would have been to analyse the risk and opportunity through these three parameters and then make the final decision about which of the fighter plane choices would have best advanced Indian security. In strategic and geopolitical terms, France can provide little help to India in either Asia or in the global theatre. While France has always been a well-wisher, it has never had much capacity to help India. For example, though France wanted to sell India nuclear reactors, it could do little to change the nuclear non-proliferation rules that prevented it from doing so. It took Washington to change these rules to India's benefit.

Additionally, numbers (of aircraft India could acquire) and cost should have been factored in. Buying fewer but more expensive aircraft might make some fighter jocks happy, but having greater numbers might be more relevant to a country like India which faces a two-front threat from China and Pakistan. It was often argued in the MMRCA debate that maintaining air superiority required technological superiority, range and payload but an equally important consideration is that of numbers.

Numerical superiority in India's regional context is of particular significance given that the current strength of India's fighter jets is only around 600, and unless replenished, it will reach critically low numbers soon. Meanwhile, both Beijing and Islamabad have been augmenting their fighter fleets. India could have procured far greater numbers of fighters with the US or Russian option.

Though the probability of a two-front war is low, no pragmatic Indian strategic decision-maker should rule it out. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that the Indian army is raising new forces to deploy on the China border. It is unclear if the technological superiority of the Rafale is so great as to compensate for the smaller numbers that India will have to settle for.

Cost should have also had an important role in the MMRCA decision. India's decision to go for Rafale is going to cost New Delhi around $20 billion, if not more. Opting for a Russian or US jet would have been far cheaper. The Russian option would have been the least expensive whereas the American fighters would have been somewhere in the middle with the European jets being the most expensive. In overall terms, the American F-18s would have been the best given that they (as well as the F-16s) came with the second-generation AESA radars.

Lastly, the most important consideration should have been the strategic benefits that accrue to India through this deal. Indian decision-makers should have been mindful of the fact that this deal was as much about making strategic investments in a relationship as simply buying fighters. India does not enjoy a benign neighbourhood, and these security needs are important. But India also needs to balance these with its requirements as a rising power, which means having capable friends. The MMRCA deal was a great opportunity to consolidate its strategic ties with either Russia or the US, or even with both. Instead, New Delhi has ended up antagonising both of them.

The standard response that India has signed many other defence contracts with both Russia and the US does not wash because this was a very different and high-profile deal which was closely watched around the world. Signing smaller deals, even if they add up to significant amounts, does not have the same weight as the MMRCA deal. New Delhi needs to be more careful in both understanding strategic moments and being able to exploit them if it wants to sit at the global high table.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My interview with The Diplomat .... on China's aircraft carrier, India's subs, missile defense options.....


Here's an interview of mine in the Diplomat published today ... touching upon issues including China's aircraft carrier, US-India relations and India's subs.

For the full interview, click here.



Meet The Diplomat Writers
February 7, 2012 By The Diplomat
The Diplomat speaks with Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, who answers readers’ questions on China’s aircraft carrier, missile defense and India’s attack submarine.

Mark Sharpis (LinkedIn):
There has been much written and debated regarding China’s new carrier, the ex-Soviet carrier Varyag. What do you make of the carrier and its current capabilities? Do you see China’s new carrier as a threat to India? Do you feel it could be used as a platform to build future vessels?
We don’t know very much about the carrier, but it seems in line with what the PLA Navy’s Academic Research Institute had been stating, that it will be a “conventionally powered medium-sized carrier that would be equipped with Chinese engines, aircraft, radar and other hardware.” While there was no doubt that China will have its own aircraft carrier someday, external assessments as far as the timeline was concerned have been wrong. Many of the western assessments had calculated that Beijing would have its first carrier by 2012 or so. However, today, the aircraft carrier is only undergoing initial sea trials, and still testing its engines, navigation equipment, electronics, fire control and maintenance systems, according to published reports. But they are a long way away from carrying combat planes. It will be years before they have a carrier battle group comprising a consolidated group of frigates, destroyers, submarines and other support vessels.

Having said that, what does an aircraft carrier mean for China? Having an aircraft carrier in its arsenal doesn’t mean much as yet, and China is years away from being capable of even effective sea denial strategy in the East Asian maritime region. However, as a rising power, China will possess such capabilities and more in the future. If there are no serious hitches, the PLAN is scheduled to induct the carrier into service by October 2012, though this sounds ambitious.
China’s aircraft carrier plans are an element of its assertive naval posturing that it has been displaying vis-a-vis its neighbors in recent years – be it the East China Sea or the South China Sea. In fact, an aircraft carrier would provide Beijing with greater coercive means for enforcing its claims in these two seas. Reportedly, a Chinese defense ministry-run website suggested that the carrier should handle territorial disputes as well. A PLA Daily article, too, noted that in a theater like the South China Sea, a carrier would provide them the ability to apply significant air-to-ground firepower during military missions, while not being affected by geographical restrictions. They see the aircraft carrier as a “mobile maritime airport.”

What does the Chinese aircraft carrier mean for India and other neighbors? In the first place, it would induce caution in other maritime powers in the region, particularly India, the U.S. and Japan. China’s submarine force already has produced this effect to some extent on these powers; the aircraft carrier would compound it. As for the Southeast Asian countries, the Chinese aircraft carrier would be a display of power and prestige. In fact, a PLA Daily article said that the aircraft carrier has far greater political significance than military significance. This is particularly important given that until a few years back, the PLAN was the weakest wing of the Chinese military. But this has changed now with greater attention in favor of the naval and air wing of the military. Chinese strategists seem to believe that aircraft carriers are important if they want to have effective maritime power projection capabilities, as opposed to purely defensive tasks. Display of power and prestige is important both for internal and external audiences.

Manish Kumar (LinkedIn):
There has been speculation in the media that the United States and/or Europe may wish to work with India on missile defense technology. Do you feel such collaboration is possible? What benefits would it bring to India as well as its potential partners?
While India had traditionally opposed missile defense, it now acknowledges its utility and is developing it publicly given the short- and medium-range missile threats from both Pakistan and China. In essence, though Indian missile defense architecture isn’t yet settled, India appears to be planning to establish a multi-layered missile defense system. It has been reported that the system will include a huge network of advanced notification sensors, command centers and anti-missile land- and sea based missile batteries. However, we must remember that defense scientists have made many tall claims on a number of areas but have delivered very little. So though the interest in missile defense and in building domestic systems is clear, that doesn’t denote that this will be successful.

While India has been making efforts to develop a missile defense system indigenously, it has also sought foreign partners. In this regard, partnering with the U.S. may be particularly important. This was best evident in India’s reaction to President Bush’s NMD speech in May 2001. In contrast to the strident criticism to the United States’ Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s, India had adopted a much more nuanced and considered position that was in recognition of the utility of these systems in the Indian context. The changed stance was also based on the assumption that it might facilitate high-tech missile defense cooperation in addition to currying favor with Washington.

The most serious problem that India seems to face is unclear political direction. There appears to be no clear direction about whether India really wants to build such a system (either indigenously or imported) and no apparent considerations of the financial and strategic consequences of such a move. In the absence of such political direction, India’s defense research agencies are on auto-pilot, making grandiose plans, but their feasibility is unclear yet.

Harry Kazianis:
With your research agenda looking at U.S. missile defense, do you advocate for a specific missile defense that is better than others? Do you feel the SM-2 or SM-3 would offer the United States and its potential partners the best defense against today’s expanding anti-ship and cruise missile technologies? Do you see an exotic technology like rail guns or something on the horizon offering better protection?

I’m not even sure that missile defenses will be useful or necessary in the Indian context. And questions about specific systems have to wait until the purposes of BMDs are defined in the Indian context: are they for point defense or national defense? If for point defense (which is obviously more feasible) how many ‘points’ will be covered – just the National Command Authority (NCA) or other vital targets such as major population centers or strategic areas? Without even the most basic architectural questions resolved, it’s difficult to consider specific systems.

Stewart Walters (LinkedIn):
The United States has recently announced various budget cuts to its armed forces. Will America be able to “pivot” to the Pacific with such cuts being considered? If America is to truly pivot to the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, wouldn’t it need to increase the size of its Navy?
While the U.S. is undertaking major cuts in its defense expenditure, one thing has been made clear repeatedly in the last few months: the U.S. is back in Asia for good. Most recently, outlining the challenges, priorities and opportunities in the new U.S. defense strategy, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, President Obama said that while U.S. interests are global, its security and economic interests are intertwined with developments in the region, from Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. Therefore, the U.S. presence and influence in the Asia Pacific region is seen as necessary “rebalancing.” After being stretched too thin for a while, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. is now attempting to rationalize its defense strategy. In fact, the changing geopolitical circumstances and fiscal compulsions dictate new dynamics to this strategy.

While budget pressures will make it difficult for the U.S., the “pivot” is more a political statement than one about the state of the U.S. military. I don’t think the U.S. lacks military capabilities in the region. While more might certainly be good for the U.S., it’s also a fine balance between the domestic economic requirements and military spending. In addition, as China strengthens, we are likely to see its neighbors step up their military efforts. I think they would realize now that they can’t entirely depend on American efforts alone. This additional regional capability should reduce slightly the burden on the U.S. also.

Jason Miks:
Where do you see U.S.-India relations going in the next ten years? Do you feel the U.S. and India will enter in some sort of Alliance structure? Will India stay away considering its past leadership in such ideas like the Non-Aligned Movement?
Since the conclusion of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, both Washington and New Delhi have been drifting. With the nuclear deal over, U.S. and India need another big idea to power the relationship over the next several years. Without such a political initiative at the highest levels, U.S.-India relations threaten once again to wallow in bureaucratic inertia. Space cooperation, cooperation in advanced technologies and managing the Indo-Pacific are potential areas that would bring the two sides closer.
In Washington, there’s significant disappointment on a number of issues including India’s nuclear liabilities bill, which for all practical purposes prevents the U.S. nuclear industry from participating in India’s civilian nuclear sector; and the Indian decision to reject two American competitors from the Indian Air Force’s lucrative Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal. In Delhi, on the other hand, there’s unhappiness at what is seen as American pressure for greater defense cooperation. These issues suggest that all is not well with U.S.-India relations.

However, there are several issues such as the global war on terrorism, the future of Pakistan-Afghanistan, managing the Asia-Pacific including maritime security and the protection of sea lines of communication that bind the two countries for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the more important aspect isn’t to lose sight of the importance of this bilateral relationship and hence invest time, effort and resources to nurture it.

While U.S.-India relations are likely to mature further and grow into a strong partnership, it’s unlikely that New Delhi will posture itself as an “ally” in the classical sense of the term. For that matter, the U.S. itself is moving away from the typical traditional alliance structure to more fluid strategic partners and coalitions of the willing.

While there are a few proponents of non-alignment in New Delhi, in reality, non-alignment was always more of a declaratory than a real policy. India has been trying hard to shed this policy and move into building partnerships with the west and the U.S. in particular, evident in the U.S.-India nuclear deal. But India also values its “strategic autonomy.” We should expect that India will cooperate with the United States and others on some areas, such as seeking a balance in Asia, but would not formally align with the U.S. But because the balance in the Asian region is also in a flux, India, like others, won’t make long-term bets. Paradoxically, it’s China’s rise that might dictate India’s strategy: if China should falter, there will be less pressure to cooperate with the U.S. and vice-versa.

Sandeep Sharma (Facebook):
Russia has just completed the transfer of an Akula II Nuclear Attack Submarine to India on a ten year lease. What knowledge and experience can India gain from such a move? How much of a benefit will it bring to India’s own nuclear submarine program?
INS Chakra is important for a variety of reasons. First of all, the Indian Navy will be operating a nuclear submarine after a gap of about twenty years; the last one, again Russian-leased, a Charlie II class vessel, was operated during 1988-1991. Operating this new Akula II class vessel will benefit the Indian Navy tremendously in training a new batch of submariners in nuclear operations.
While India can learn some of these lessons once its own nuclear-powered submarines come in, this lease offers India the option of getting a head start. In addition, nuclear submarine operations are a recently developed maritime skill, somewhat like carrier operations, and only a few countries have such capacity. The Indian Navy has an opportunity to learn these skills from those with experience rather than re-inventing the wheel very slowly. But most importantly, the Navy will be able to learn and apply lessons learnt to its own domestic submarine development program. And though there have been several controversies surrounding the Russian submarines, including the one that’s being leased to India, it’s important to bear in mind that there aren’t very many other countries that are willing to lease India a nuclear-powered submarine. So there are multiple benefits.

http://the-diplomat.com/author-spotlight/2012/02/07/meet-the-diplomat-writers-11/
For inquiries, please contact The Diplomat at info@the-diplomat.com



Saturday, February 4, 2012

India's MMRCA Decision: Strategic Implications


Here's my take on India's MMRCA decision .... While the fight over the selection is over, questions about the wisdom of New Delhi's choice is unlikely to end any time soon. For India's current administration, beset with corruption scandals, letting technical merits alone determine the MMRCA decision was probably the politically easiest choice. But its strategic merits are somewhat less clear.

For the full article published by ORF, click here.



India's long and convoluted search for new fighter plane - or the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) - has entered its final stage. New Delhi has just announced that the Rafale, built by Dassault Aviation of France, has been chosen to meet the Indian Air Force's (IAF) requirement. Only price negotiation remains now.

The fight over the choice of aircraft appears to be now over. The Rafale had already been short-listed along with the Eurofighter Typhoon from a field which originally included four more jets: the US-built F-16 and F-18, the Russian MiG-35 and the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen. But, though the fight over the selection is over, questions about the wisdom of New Delhi's choice is unlikely to end any time soon.

Commenting on the MMRCA decision, Air Marshal Ahluwalia, a former IAF officer, proudly stated that this was probably the first decision that was made purely on technical grounds. While probably accurate, this reveals serious strategic short-sightedness. While the government should have received inputs from the Air Force, such decisions should not have been taken on purely technical grounds. For India's decision-makers, limiting themselves to technical specifications was a risk-free option, but that reveals more about the state of strategic decision-making in Delhi than the wisdom of the choice they made.

Ideally, the Indian decision should have been guided by a strategy that balances reducing danger and broadening opportunity. Accordingly, the question for New Delhi should have been how to use this lucrative deal to beef up India's strategic options. Thus it is probably a strategic blunder to narrowly focus on the technical specifications and capabilities alone, as many proponents of the IAF's choice have done. A decision of this magnitude should have been filtered through three key parameters: strategic, operational and tactical. Additionally, numbers (of aircraft India could acquire) and cost should have been factored in. Buying fewer but more expensive aircraft might make some fighter jocks happy, but having greater numbers might be more relevant to a country like India which faces a two-front threat from China and Pakistan. It was often argued in the debate about the MMRCA that maintaining air superiority required technological superiority, range and payload, but an equally important consideration is that of numbers. Numerical superiority in India's regional context is of particular significance given that the current strength of India's fighter jets is only around 600 and unless replenished, it will reach critically low numbers soon. Meanwhile, both Beijing and Islamabad have been augmenting their fighter fleets. India could have procured far greater numbers of fighters with the US or Russian option. Though the probability of a two-front war is low, no pragmatic Indian strategic decision-maker should rule it out. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that the Indian army is raising new forces to deploy on the China border. It is unclear if the technological superiority of the Rafale is so great as to compensate for the smaller numbers that India will have to settle for.

Cost should have also had an important role in the MMRCA decision. India's decision to go for Rafale is going to cost New Delhi around $20 billion, if not more. Opting for a Russian or US jet would have been far cheaper for India. The Russian option would have been the least expensive whereas the American fighters would have been somewhere in the middle with the European jets being the most expensive. In overall terms, the American option in an F-18 would have been the best given that it (as well as F-16s) came with the second-generation AESA radars.

Lastly, the most important consideration should have been the strategic benefits that accrue to India through this deal. Indian decision-makers should have been mindful of the fact that this deal was as much about making strategic investments in a relationship as simply buying fighters. In strategic and geopolitical terms, France can provide little help to India in either Asia or in the global theatre. While France has always been a well-wisher, it has never had much capacity to help India. For example, though France wanted to sell India nuclear reactors, it could do little to change the nuclear non-proliferation rules that prevented it from doing so. It took Washington to change these rules to India's benefit.

For India's current administration, beset with corruption scandals, letting technical merits alone determine the MMRCA decision was probably the politically easiest choice. But its strategic merits are somewhat less clear.