The induction of five Rafale fighter jets into the Indian Air Force is being touted by the media as a game changer in the stand-off against China. This, in another way, concedes that the Armed Forces, today, are not in a position to face the PLA. Both of these beliefs are obviously untrue. The fact is, having to purchase cutting edge military technology actually places India at a disadvantage against the big players. Theoretically, for instance, it is possible that in a conflict against one of France’s close allies, that country could cut off supply of Rafale spare parts to India, rendering the jets ineffective. In contrast, much of China’s high-technology weapons are homemade, which would give it an edge in a long drawn out conflict. All these facts are quite obviously factored in by India’s strategists when planning for a war against various adversaries. It is the people that need to be better informed so that they do not have any false expectations. Unless there is the necessary synch between government and the public, it puts unnecessary pressure on the decision makers in formulating policy. Rahul Gandhi’s tweets, for instance, are designed to take advantage of this ignorance to create the impression of a ‘scared’ government.
The truth is, it is the indigenous Tejas fighter jet type of weaponry that would serve India better in a major conflict, particularly against a Pakistan type of adversary. Once the imported jets have, basically, cancelled each other out, or have been rendered ineffective by denial of spares, etc., it is the Tejas – which can be produced in large numbers if needed – that would see the nation through. (Veterans will recall that the HF-24, which was considered not up to the mark, performed well in the battlefield.)
It must be understood that the present problem with China has to do with control over limited territory on the border. Going by the pattern of warfare that has taken place in the Middle-East, where the fight has been between very well equipped forces against rag-tag bands of fighters, it becomes clear that high-technology does not necessarily play such a decisive role. Very importantly, a lot depends on what happens in specific areas of action. What actually happened in Galwan Valley, for instance, is very much open to interpretation. This will have its impact on the negotiating table. It must not be forgotten that, even from highly advantageous positions, India in the past lost in negotiation what it had won on the battlefield. The Rafale is a morale booster, but a better understanding of the game is far more important to achieve the desired results.