Tuesday’s decision to select the Dassault Aviation-made Rafale fighter jet over the Eurofighter Typhoon as the aircraft that will power the Indian Air Force for the next 40 years is easily the biggest prize that France has won on any military order.
Some 800 French companies operate in India but only a select few in the defence sector. Areva in the nuclear power sector and Airbus (European conglomerate) in civil aviation have expanded their businesses, too.
But in the lucrative defence business, France is still behind Russia and Israel as a supplier to India. The award of the Rafale contract, possibly in April, will expand its lead hugely over the US, the UK and Western European countries. The Indian military has been steadily diversifying its arsenal this past decade even though nearly 70 per cent of the hardware is of Russian/Soviet origin.
It would be sweeter still for France because India has selected the Rafale after it was rejected by a clutch of countries that were or are looking to refurbish their air forces. Among them are Switzerland, the UAE, Brazil and South Korea. Also, even all of these countries put together were not looking to buy as many as 126 — and possibly another 63 more — of the aircraft.
France’s year for India’s defence began with the announcement in the first week of January that MBDA was being awarded a contract for 490 Mica infrared and radar-controlled air-to-air missiles. The package will cost the defence budget $1.2 billion (about Rs 6,600 crore).
The award of the weapons package follows the order to upgrade the Indian Air Force’s 51 Mirage 2000H fighter jets. France was given the contract in July last after years of negotiations that almost frustrated it. The Mica missiles from MBDA will equip these refurbished fighter jets.
MBDA is also in the race to sell Asraam missiles to arm the Indian Air Force’s 100 Jaguar fighter-bomber aircraft. MBDA heavy-duty weapons used in Libya and Afghanistan, like bunker busting and deep penetration ground attack missiles, will arm the Rafale, too.
The Mirage modernisation order to French companies Dassault and Thales will cost about $2.4 billion (about Rs 11,000 crore). The total upgrade order, with the weapons package, will top Rs 17,500 crore.
French companies are preparing to race for an order for a second line of submarines for the Indian Navy that could be in the region of Rs 62,000 crore. France’s DCNS got the contract in 2005 to build six Scorpene submarines. The delivery of the submarines, being built in Cherbourg in France and also at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai is delayed because work languished over pricing issues in 2008.
The first of the submarines is now expected only in 2015. The contract was signed initially for $3 billion after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Jacques Chirac in September 2005. The price was revised to $4.5 billion after the contract was re-negotiated amid allegations from German rival HDW of a scandal.
Cutting across the various defence contracts that France is executing is French company Thales. Thales is a partner for the Mirage upgrade, the submarine development and will partner Dassault for the Rafale. It supplies night-vision devices to the Indian Army for its tanks.
French engine-maker Snecma powers the Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft and two Snecma M88 engines will go into each Rafale.
French company Safran has won a contract for an unspecified amount from Hindustan Aeronautics to supply Turbomeca Ardiden 1H helicopters for the Dhruv-II advanced light helicopter. Each helicopter has two engines and the Dhruv is steadily becoming one of the main rotorcraft for the army, the air force and the navy as also for central police organisations. The Turbomeca engines are made by Safran.