Why Is India Buying More Russian Jets Instead Of ‘Highly-Competent’ Rafale Aircraft?

Amid escalating border tensions between India and China, New Delhi has approved to spend billions to purchase Russian fighter planes. Tensions between the India Army and Chinese PLA troops escalated after a violent, savagery border clash killing 20 Indian soldiers and unconfirmed number on the Chinese side. 

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The Defense Ministry today approved the purchase of 33 new fighter jets including 21 MiG-29s from Russia. While the new fighter jets add to the arsenal of the Indian Air Force (IAF), experts have labelled the purchase as ‘wrong’.

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In a deal inked earlier today, Moscow will sell New Delhi 33 new fighter aircraft including 12 Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s along with up-gradation of 59 MiG-29s. The MiG 29 procurement and up-gradation from Russia is estimated to cost Rs 7418 cr, the Su-30 MKI will be procured from HAL at an estimated cost of Rs 10,730 cr.

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Additionally, The Defence Acquisition Council approved the acquisition of various platforms and equipment required by the Indian Armed Forces for an approximate cost of Rs 38,900 cr and also cleared the acquisition of 248 Astra Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missiles for the Indian Air Force and the Navy.

The latest acquisitions come at the time of escalated border tensions between India and China. As reported by EurAsian Times earlier, troops on both sides have been deployed in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since the first week of June with both sides trying to disengage.

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Experts speaking to EurAsian Times justify the acquisitions as preparation for the long haul in the tussle with China. Despite de-escalation talks, the situation with the LAC is not expected to improve and instead India is preparing for a two-front war with China and Pakistan.

Su-30s, MiG 29s vs Rafale

While new jets would be a big boost to any air force, in the eyes of experts, the acquisition of Russian Sukhoi’s and MiGs are ‘wrong’. Aviation expert Tom Cooper has expressed his surprise that the Indian air force reportedly wants Su-30s and MiG-29s to meet its emergency requirement for a couple of squadrons worth of jets.

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According to Cooper writing for the Forbes, the Su-30, while seemingly impressive on paper, lacks performance and combat capability compared to Western models and is a poor fit for mountain patrol. He also points out that the Russian made Su-30s had failed to perform during the war in Kargil 1999 and Balakot Airstrikes in 2019 and instead the Mirage-2000s had proven to be more effective.

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The aviation expert also added that the Su-30 not only lacks the latest precision to the air-to-ground weapons, but it also does not perform well from high altitude bases.

Speaking about the Mig 29, Cooper said that while it performs better than the Su-30, it is still not the correct choice for the IAF. The MiG-29s that New Delhi plans to buy from Russia are outdated models that Russian workers will refurbish before handing over and they are simply not up to the task.

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Experts believe that India could have instead used the money to procure more 5th generation Rafale fighter jets from France. So far India has ordered 36 jets from Paris with 6 scheduled for delivery later this month.

Currently, India has 230 Su-30s and 60 MiG 29’s in service. To prepare for a two-front war with Islamabad and Beijing, New Delhi is looking to increase its squadron strength from 28 to 40. The IAF has a mix of fighters including Russian MiGs and Sukhois, French Mirage 2000s and Rafales, Indian Tejas and British Jaguars.

Armaan Srivastava