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In 2016, India signed a landmark deal with France to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets for a total of $8.85 billion. Fast forward to 2024, a new debate has ignited within Indian Defence community as the Indian Air Force (IAF) plans to acquire 97 locally-made Tejas Mk1A fighter jets at an estimated cost of $7.80 billion. The central question: can domestic quantity compete with foreign quality?

The Rafale and Tejas Mk1A are undeniably different aircraft. The Rafale, a mediumweight from France, boasts a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 24.5 tons. This translates to a significantly higher weapons carrying capacity, allowing it to carry nearly three times the payload of the Tejas Mk1A, which has a MTOW of 13.5 tons.

Looking purely at numbers, the Tejas Mk1A emerges as the more economical option. At an estimated unit cost, procuring 290 Tejas Mk1A fighters would cost roughly $22 billion, significantly less than the estimated cost of acquiring 114 Rafale jets. This translates to a potential three-fold increase in aerial firepower for the IAF. For reference, 36 Rafale jets were purchased for $8.85 and 83 Mk1A for $6.15 billion.

This economic disparity echoes the famous quote by Joseph Stalin, “Quantity has a quality all of its own.” In a scenario of large-scale conflict, a sheer number of fighter jets, even if less sophisticated than their counterparts, could overwhelm enemy defenses through sheer weight of numbers.

However, the Rafale’s superior payload capacity translates to greater firepower and mission flexibility. It can carry a wider range of weapons and conduct more complex missions compared to the Tejas Mk1A. This translates to a stronger power projection capability on the international stage.