For a few rupees more- Why France and Britain are bombing Libya

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.)

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