The Indian Air Force on Friday expressed hope that the multi-billion contract for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) would be inked "sooner than later", saying the project is "very important" for it to replace some of the obsolete fleet under its command.
"MMRCA deal is very important for which which we have been stating right from the beginning. Everybody knows, government knows, the public knows (that it is) to replace some of our obsolete fleet which have served the nation well for the last 4-5 decades," Air Force chief Air Marshal Arup Raha said.
He said "though it has taken time", the deal was a planned activity and replacement for the obsolete aircraft that the force has in combat fleet."The process is very huge, little complicated. Most of the things have been sorted out and therefore we expect that final stage will progress rapidly and the deal may be signed sooner than later," he said.
French defence major Dassault Aviation was selected by India in January 2012 for supplying 126 Rafale jets to the Indian Air Force. The negotiations have lately slowed down over some issues, including the imposition of liquidity damages or penalties for any delay in supply of the aircraft to be manufactured in the country.
India had selected the French Rafale combat aircraft after an over five-year process where five other jets like American F/A-18 and F-16, Russian MiG 35, European Eurofighter and Swedish Saab Gripen were also in the race. However, the process of finalising the contract has been quite slow and still the role and responsibilities to be shared between the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Dassault Aviation have not been fully agreed upon.
Out of the 126 aircraft to be manufactured for the IAF, 18 are proposed to be supplied directly by the French from their facilities in France whereas the remaining 108 are planned to be built in HAL facilities in Bangalore.
French envoy to India Francois Richier had played down the delay in the finalisation of the much-delayed contract for the supply of Rafale fighter planes, saying that such "complex" issues take time. On the other hand, UK has said that the Europe-backed Eurofighter could hold negotiations with India for the supply 126 MMRCA.