Indian Air Force

Why Exactly 36 Rafale Were Purchased?

Modi Government signed the deal of 36 Rafale in 2016, after Scrapping the deal of 126 Rafale deal of the UPA (Congress). There is a lot of controversies everywhere, especially Congress loving people who have questioned this deal a lot. The question mainly, other than price, was why exactly 36 Rafale were purchased? why no more? why no less? Let’s find the answers to it, starting from Brief History.


The most famous KARGIL WAR, there was a HERO(Also Said Poster Boy of KARGIL war) named MIRAGE-2000, which made very precision airstrikes deep into Pakistan Strategic targets. This Mirage-2000 was mainly used for the bombing role. As of now and even during the Kargil war India doesn’t have a single Bomber aircraft. So we had to use Mirage for that Air-to-Ground role using Smart bombs fitted with the US-made Paveway laser-guidance kits and no doubt, it proved its worthiness.

Mirage 2000 during Kagil War

This Mirage-2000 which was the first Fly-by-wire aircraft of IAF. In 1982, Indira Gandhi signed the deal with Dassault Aviation for 40 Mirage-2000 and they were delivered in 1985. Now, here understand that since it was a western aircraft, the systems of western countries could be easily integrated as these western countries allowed to share source codes. While integrating the same in Russian platforms was not possible as in that time it was USSR and source codes are much more important pieces of technology.

Now here, one has to look at the number of Mirage aircraft i.e. 40, which is almost equal to 2 Squadrons of IAF (A squadron is Considered to have 18-20 jets). Now again, why 40? Here they were mainly procured for Bombing purposes, as we already got good Air-to-Air support from Russain Platforms. So 2 Squadrons are enough to serve the Bombing missions of IAF and actually they did.

Now actually, IAF asked Indira Government to purchase 150 Mirage-2000 but the deal cost 500 crores more than the entire defense budget (The year 1980). Here, talks were there that a domestic line of Mirage-2000 will also be set up to which also agreed. But in the end, only 40 were purchased because the Soviet Union cracked a deal of Mig-29 jets at the same time (How they did it? maybe Mitrokhin Archive would help). And here, neither of them would be Made in India.

So, one can see here, that it was actually the UPA government who brought 2 squadrons just enough to carry bombing operations. The other purpose of this Mirage-2000 was to counter the F-16 procured by Pakistan. Now the situation here is that the aircraft fleet of Mirage-2000 was not large enough to do both roles and also not small enough to carry any role.

It Is Said, That If Not Learned From History, It Will Repeat Itself

Yes. Reading this above and this line one can feel the Déjà vu. The same thing was repeated again in the MMRCA tender. UPA government, even though having selected the Rafale in 2011 itself, didn’t pursue the deal and just having negotiations. When in 2014 NDA, the government arrived, the Defence minister looked over the deal and saw it as a total mess.

Why again? Normally, the acquisition cost forms 20–25 percent of the overall LCC (Life Cycle cost) of the aircraft, and the cost of operation, maintenance, and overhaul is about 75–80 percent and, thus, significantly higher than the cost of acquisition. Everyone knows that UPA was making a 7 Billion Dollar deal for Bare Bones of Rafale. None other cost was added. And if added, according to the above percentages, it would more than 20-25 Billion dollars or even more. This could have consumed almost the half defense budget of India.

Indian Rafale

And this was one of the reasons (Will state others in more detail, in other articles) why the UPA government didn’t go for the deal and kept negotiating with no results. So after seeing it as a mess, our Defense minister did the same what was done by the UPA government. He made a deal of 2 Squadrons of Rafale. Reasons of doing that were mainly the Retiring age of Mirage in Upcoming years(it’s now 35 years old), the Need of IAF to fill squadrons, and saving the name of India Defense procurement (As canceling the whole deal and doing nothing with Dassault Aviation would tumble the Confidence of all global vendors in MMRCA 2.0) and also for carrying our nuclear deterrence or carrying nuclear bombs as India doesn’t have any bomber.

Here, it is assumed that Rafale is much beyond in technology, and also had much more capability than other aircraft of the world (of the Same Generations) so the number of 40 might have come down to 36. This is not a necessary reason, but 2 Squadrons is a vague term as mentioned earlier consists of 18-20 Aircraft, so 2 Squadrons could be 36 or 40.


Here would just like to state, that 36 is not a magical number. Because the same was used by Indira Gandhi Government also, so just Blaming Modi Government for Alleged corruption is just not viable.

Here 36 Rafale is actually not enough, because they might add teeth to IAF, but it also adds up the Logistics cost. There are speculations that more 36 Rafale could be brought but no official confirmation has arrived. What, would be better, if the suggestion taken is to get Rafale under MMRCA 2.0 tender as the number is big and that would really help in overcoming the shortcomings of IAF.

Also Read, Complete Details On India’s Rafale Deal

Also Read, Decoding Weapon Package of Rafale

Also Read, How IAF Is Going To Increase Its Depleting Fighter Squadron Strength?


Nirav Kotak

A Mechanical Engineer and a Defense Enthusiast wanting to share knowledge and learn more from others as well.

One Comment

  1. That was a very informative article. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and clearing the doubts. But I want to ask you. Does the IAF need bomber aircraft now? If yes, which bomber aircraft do you think the IAF will go for.

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