Has bombing of small countries become the West’s new marketing technique? It appears France and Britain are dragging out their air assault on Libya to showcase their warplanes in a bid to impress potential buyers, especially India.
Don't call it a war. Calling the air assault on Libya a war is an insult to professional soldiers.
It's simply shooting fish in a barrel. Indeed, the Libyans are live targets in a country-sized firing range where French and British warplanes are showcasing their prowess in a bid to impress the Indians.
Democracy, as we all know, is the least of the Western world’s concerns. It’s either oil or money that drives the West. Observe the timing of UN Resolution 1973 which neatly dovetails with India's plans to splurge on foreign weapons. According to Aviation Week, India will spend over $80 billion on advanced weaponry over the next five years.
War is perhaps the single largest business in the West. In fact, it makes lots of money for many, especially those in the armaments business. Today, with Europe in a collective economic swoon, every dollar, euro and pound counts. You can add the rupee to that list.
India is in the final stages of selecting 126 fighter-bombers for the Indian Air Force in a deal worth $10 billion, cash down. And guess what, the final two contenders for the military deal of the decade are France and Britain, the very two countries that are bombing Libya into the dark ages.
But there's more at stake here. The icing on the cake are the billions more dollars the Indian deal will generate through the sale of ground control systems, ammunition, trainer aircraft, an unending stream of spares, and ongoing support.
Plus, the seller will get a crucial foot in the door of one of the world's leading air forces which has traditionally opted for Russian aircraft.
With American and Russian aircraft eliminated early from the race, it leaves the skies open for the French Rafale to duke it out with the Typhoon, which is produced by the European consortium, Eurofighter.
The rivalry among the Europeans is intense. Their air forces are being downsized and cannot support their own defence industries. Dassault, which makes the Rafale, doesn’t have a single foreign buyer yet. Eurofighter is a mainly German-British company and is hardly in the same league as the American and Russian aircraft makers. So whoever loses out will pretty much lay down their tools. On the other hand, the Indian deal will keep the winner's assembly lines humming for at least a decade.
War is a small price to pay if it can help the Western countries get some orders. For the countries and companies behind those planes and weapons, there's no better sales tool than real combat.
"This (the war in Libya) is turning into the best shop window for competing aircraft for years. More even than in Iraq in 2003," says Francis Tusa, editor of UK-based Defense Analysis.
"You are seeing for the first time on an operation the Typhoon and the Rafale up against each other, and both countries want to place an emphasis on exports."
A former defence export official with a NATO country, told Reuters: "As soon as an aircraft or weapon is used on operational deployment, that instantly becomes a major marketing ploy; it becomes 'proven in combat'."
The Libyan operation marks the combat debut for the Typhoon. Both the Rafale and Typhoon are pounding Libya day and night, a mission that has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and destroyed infrastructure on a major scale.
Time magazine's Battleland blog says the Indians are watching with interest. That, however, is debatable. The highly professional Indian Air Force will hardly bother with data on the brilliant performance of the Rafale and the Typhoon in a sanitised no-fly zone. Being able to pound a beautiful city like Tripoli to dust is not exactly one of the parameters listed by the IAF.
However, the Western countries are determined to prove the effectiveness of their fighters to the Indians. And tomorrow they will try to sell to the Chinese and Australians, defensive systems needed to repel the same warplanes.
There simply is no other reason for bombing Gaddafi, who had patched up with the West in the recent past. He had handed over the rudimentary nuclear weapons blueprints sold to him by the Pakistanis, paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the families of the Lockerbie victims, and signed major defence deals with the same countries that are bombing his tiny nation.
Meanwhile, the Kafkaesque saga in Libya continues – with the French Rafale bombing the Libyan Air Force's French Mirages, which French President Nicholas Sarkozy had agreed to modernize.
And there's more. In 2009 the Typhoon fighter-bomber took part in a Libyan air show attended by Gaddafi's generals.
So why not sell to Gaddafi? Well, the Libyan leader is small beer. After all how many planes could he have bought? Ten? Twenty? Not more. The Indians will buy 126.
(About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based writer. He has previously worked with Businessworld, India Today and Hindustan Times, and was news editor with the Financial Express.)