February 21, 2015

‘HAL will take full responsibility for Rafales’

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman T Suvarna Raju on Thursday said that HAL is willing to take full responsibility for the Rafales that it manufactures if the contract with French Defence major Dassault is signed. The comment assumes significance in the backdrop of a disagreement between India and Dassault over who would take guarantee for the Rafale fighter jets.

The Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft project involves buying of 18 aircraft from Dassault in flyaway condition, while the rest are to be manufactured by HAL under license.

IAF Chief Adds to MMRCA confusion ::

India's Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has added to the prevailing confusion over the purchase of 126 Dassault Rafale fighters by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Addressing a press conference at Aero India 2015 on 19 February, ACM Raha said that to make up for fast depleting fighter numbers it was important for the IAF to swiftly induct a platform for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirement, but it did not "specifically" have to be the Rafale.

"It is important we have an MMRCA. I would not say Rafale, but we need to have it [MMRCA] in the quickest possible time," the IAF chief said.

He stated that with the IAF's legacy fighters like MiG-21s and MiG-27s facing retirement during the next five to six years, it was vital for the IAF to acquire new platforms to maintain a force level of 42 fighter squadrons. In recent years this had dropped to 32 squadrons and this number is slated to reduce even further if new platforms were not speedily inducted.

The air chief's remarks, however, further fuelled speculation that the deal for 126 Rafales to meet the MMRCA requirement could well be on the rocks.

The purchase is reportedly deadlocked over Dassault's refusal to take responsibility for the 108 Rafales that the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is to licence produce in accordance with the 2007 MMRCA tender. Eighteen of 126 aircraft are to be acquired in flyaway condition.

ACM Raha said that three of four subcommittees negotiating the Rafale tender had completed their tasks of determining offsets, maintenance support and technology transfer to HAL to licence produce Rafales.

The fourth, the Cost Negotiation Committee (CNC), was still in consultation with Dassault and was yet to submit its report to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), he said.

The stalemate over the CNC's deliberations concerns the escalated contract price - which has reportedly doubled to around USD20 billion - and the standoff between Dassault and the MoD over the licensed production of the fighters.

This impasse prompted Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to say recently that the IAF could acquire additional licence-built Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters if the Rafale deal fell through.

ACM Raha, however, disagreed with Parrikar and said that additional Su-30s were not an acceptable substitute for the MMRCA requirement.

"They are different types of aircraft and cannot replace each other; they only complement each other," he said.

The ACM also reiterated that there was no alternative for the IAF other than acquiring MMRCA. "There is no plan B [to the MMRCA]," he said.

ACM Raha also admitted that air force capabilities were being affected by delays in the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) programme with Russia and the induction of the locally developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
 Express News/defencenews

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