The French government believes that India is about to become the first customer for the Rafale fighter aircraft despite the long and hard bargaining over price and work-share arrangements.
In three months from now, it will be three years since the Indian Air Force selected the Rafale from a field of six competitors to fulfil its requirement for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).
When the global tender was floated for the MMRCA, the cost was estimated to be around $10 billion. A defence ministry source said the depreciation of the rupee and the cost of additional items are believed to have pushed the price to around $22 billion.
“It is a very, very big contract and very complex. From what we have heard from (the Indian) defence ministry, we believe it is on the right course,” French ambassador to India Francois Richier said here today.
When the Narendra Modi government took over in May, defence ministry officials had said it would take about three months to wrap up the contract. The delay has given hope to the Rafale’s competitors, though they are out of the race. Earlier this month, Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin claimed the Rafales “will be swatted like mosquitoes in an August night” by Russia-supplied Chinese combat planes in a war.
“We are aware that a grumpy competitor has used some bad words,” a French official retorted today. “We do not need to address that.”
The contract between the Indian defence ministry and the French maker of the Rafale, Dassault Aviation, will be backed by an inter-governmental agreement between New Delhi and Paris.
Under the terms of the Request for Proposals (global tender), the IAF will acquire 18 of the aircraft in “flyaway” condition. The balance 108 will be made in India through technology-transfer to defence public sector company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
India would be the first country, outside France itself, to buy the Rafale should the contract be signed. Earlier this week, Brazil, which was also considering buying the twin-engine Rafale for years, decided to buy Swedish firm Saab’s single-engine Gripen aircraft.
Dassault Aviation’s associate, the SAFRAN conglomerate, today entered into agreements to sponsor research projects at IIT Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
A SAFRAN company is also an associate for India’s Aadhaar identity card programme.
Richier, the French ambassador, said Dassault’s chief executive officer Eric Trippier was in India in September to meet defence ministry officials. Richier said he understood that the cost negotiation and work-share arrangements were nearly complete.
“If you look at the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme, even that took up to three years,” said Richier. The Mirage 2000 aircraft are also supplied by Dassault Aviation.
But within the IAF there is worry over the delay. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha voiced this recently. “There is a delay in each and every project…. We have lost the timelines and overruns are much more than they should have been. It is definitely a matter of concern,” he said.