Unruffled by the last-ditch bids being made by countries like the US, UK, Germany and Sweden to wade into the "mother of all defence deals", India is quietly continuing its final negotiations for acquiring 126 French Rafale fighters in the almost $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project.
Defence ministry sources on Monday said another meeting of a sub-committee of the ongoing CNC (contract negotiation committee), which includes representatives from MoD, IAF, DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is slated to take place in Bangalore later this week with the French companies led by Dassault Aviation.
As reported by TOI last month, the complex negotiations have now finally reached a stage from where they can be wrapped up in the next three months, with over 50% of the final contract as well as the inter-governmental agreement being finalized. "After that, it will be a political call. The approval process will go right up to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) before the contract can be inked," said a source.
Under the project, the first 18 jets are to be delivered to IAF within 36-48 months, while the rest 108 will be manufactured by HAL with transfer of technology over the next seven years.
With the final lap is sight now, a lot of heat and dust is now being generated by the rivals earlier eliminated from the race after exhaustive technical and commercial evaluations since the MMRCA selection process began way back in August 2007.
Last week, for instance, visiting British foreign secretary William Hague lobbied hard for the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is backed by UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, during his meetings with the Modi government. Germany, too, is learnt to have renewed the push for the Typhoons.
Similarly, the US lobby still harbors the hope that either the F/A-18 `Super Hornet' or the F-16 `Super Viper' can fly back into the MMRCA competition, and it will set the "right tone" for PM Narendra Modi's meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington in September.
But the Indian defence establishment is quite clear there can be "no comebacks" in the ongoing MMRCA project. "There are only two possibilities. One, the deal is inked for the Rafale jets. Conversely, the entire MMRCA process is scrapped after being in the works for a decade, and a fresh global tender or RFP (request for proposal) is issued," said the source.
The Rafale negotiations are being attacked on the ground that they will prove to exorbitant. But the Typhoon, the only other fighter to pass muster during the extensive field trials, had proved to "much more expensive" than the Rafale on both "direct cost of acquisitions" and "life-cycle costs" in January 2012.
With IAF down to 34 fighter squadrons, when at least 44 are required, IAF has identified the MMRCA project as its "topmost priority" for the Modi government. The indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, which is yet to receive its final operational clearance despite being in the making for 30 years, cannot fulfill the MMRCA's role. A MMRCA, for instance, will have three times the range and weapon-load carrying capacity as compared to the Tejas, which will be critical to take on China if required. - Times of india