5 Questions On India's M-MRCA Elimination

For three days, I've responded to e-mail, text messages, social media pokes and calls from many of you asking me what I thought of Wednesday's dramatic elimination in the Indian M-MRCA fighter bid. For those of you who thought I was evasive and non-commital, it was for a reason: I haven't made my mind up, and I'm not sure I will. Besides, for four days I've devoured the copious amounts of journalism that the decision has fuelled across continents and across media. As with any contentious decision that has multibillion dollar implications for big business, opinion has varied from the dumbfounded "India is f***ed" sort of thing, to vicious, melodramatic diatribes about a betrayal of Washington, to stray instances of solid sobriety that eloquently wove into consideration more threads than just the jobs, dollars and cents. What I do have is a bunch of questions that I sure as hell would like to see some discussion on. Some of them may sound rhetorical, but they're not. Some of these are questions that I've seen raised by other journalists and writers in reports published in the last few days, and are therefore quandaries I agree need to be clarified. Here's my list of 5 questions:

Q1. Can a $9.5-billion dollar airplane deal ever just be about the airplanes? Which is to say, does India expect nothing from the country that wins, above and beyond professional on-time delivery of the fighters and rock-solid after-sales support? On the other hand, what about the possibility that the elimination of the American and Russian fighters WAS a political decision?

Q2. If the European twin-engine fighters outperformed the other four contenders in field evaluations, why are there now questions over their selection? But if it is true that the margins of performance couldn't have been significant between the six contenders, did it makes sense to effect such pronounced eliminations? Does this therefore reinforce the suggestion from the first question that this WAS in fact a political decision?

Q3. Is the importance being yoked to this one contract (and the apocalyptic fall-outs being predicted in some sections) a function more of the dizzy hype that has surrounded it non-stop since 2004 than anything real? Has the mythology that engulfs the deal made it impossible to look coldly at the M-MRCA as simply a contract that meets an arithmetic IAF requirement? In turn, does the significant importance being attached to the loss of this one contract by the US belittle, demasculate and subvert the importance of other Indo-US bilateral achievements, including high value defence purchases?

Q4. Is the government, which incidentally never refuted the prevailing sense that strategic considerations would be factored into any decision (until the very end), now taking refuge in the Indian Air Force's trial recommendations as an easy offset to obvious political questions? Did something happen in the course of the selection process that forced (and if so, what) the government to shelve all "strategic factors", and complete the process wholly on merit/technical grounds if at all?

Q5. Has there been thorough transparency through every step of the selection process? If all vendors have been kept totally up to speed about their performance and compliance, and were perfectly in tune with the benchmarks (as the MoD has stated), then was last week's elimination really a surprise to those knocked out? Some of them say they expect debriefs in a transparent manner. Umm, were things not transparent before? Has the government satisfactorily shut the watertight gates of the selection process at each stage to ensure that none of its decisions along the way can be shafted later?

Photo ©Eurofighter

Labels: , , , ,