India Picks Rafale Fighter
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

India Picks Rafale Fighter


The Indian Defense Ministry called in the representatives of Dassault France and handed over a Letter of Intent to them Tuesday afternoon, in the process selecting the company to supply 126 Rafale fighters to the Indian Air Force over the next ten years.

The cost of this fleet of fighters will be an estimated $20 billion. The Rafale fighter, which beat out the Eurofighter in the final round, essentially comes in three versions:

1) The first variant is that used for the French Air Force – a multi-role fighter aircraft that has been successfully proven in combat in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and recently in Libya. This variant was demonstrated in India in air shows over the last 10 years.

2) The second variant is in service with the French Navy and has been operated from French aircraft carriers. This variant was also demonstrated extensively to the Indian Navy during visits by the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

3) The third variant of the Rafale aircraft is its nuclear capable version, in operational service with the Force de Frappe. This variant can be armed with the nuclear-tipped ASMP-A missiles.

The details of the contract will now be finalized between the Defense Ministry and representatives of Dassault over the next couple of months. Essentially, 18 aircraft will be supplied in fly away condition from France, and the remainder will be built in India. The Indian manufacturing agency will be HAL, Bangalore, which has had an extensive relationship with French aerospace companies since the 1950’s.

The contract will have options to increase the numbers of these fighters to be inducted into service from the 126 to likely 200 in the future. The Indian Navy has been patiently waiting in the wings for this contract to emerge, as in its estimation the Rafale naval fighter aircraft has the capability to be a game changer in the Indian Ocean region. Operating from Indian aircraft carriers likely to be inducted in the future, the reach of the Indian Navy would be enhanced as never before, both tactically and strategically. The commonality of this fighter aircraft in the Air Force and Navy would also ensure synergies in the Air-Sea doctrine the Indian armed forces are putting in place.

November 23, 2013 at 19:30

lolzzz looks like us r so depressed why they wanna sell a fail project like f-35 to us when their alli all cut back the no even usaf dont want it if us wanna offer us f-22 thwen we think we should go fot it but us will dont do it so forget it pal

April 23, 2013 at 19:31

US must check their history in past decade and then see themself are reliable or not
india want best plane to counter plaaf and rafale is enough for them no need of f-35

Jack's Medulla Oblongata
August 13, 2012 at 09:51

Simply put, you don't walk into a gun store expecting the shopkeeper to tell you when you can and cant buy bullets – because the new robber in town happens to be his in-law. Nations competely dependent on US hardware have no foreign policy leverage – Americans say jump and American hardware buyers ask how high. An independent nation with real defence / threat perceptions needs real teeth, not a nanny.

February 10, 2012 at 17:28

I do not agree completely with Bee’s remarks. First technologically F-35 is far superior than Rafale both in terms of airframe (Stealth), avionics and sensors and radars (USA is using ASEA radars for a long time and Rafale’s ASEA radar is still under development, Europhigter has no ASEA radar and Russia’s Zhuk-AE is not as advanced as AN/APG-81). F-35 could easily work with Phalcon (Israel is buying 75 F-35 and operating the same AWACS, as well as Singapore) and DRDO AWACS.
I agree India had issues with USA halting spare parts in the past, but present is a different story. We are already buying (and taking risk as per Bee’s view, which I don’t agree) P8I, C-130 J, C-17 and engines for LCA, Ultra light howitzers, possible sale of Aegis for future BMD destroyers for Indian Navy, and many other defense equipment and tech help/consultation from USA and we are clearly their priority in Asia-Pacific geopolitics. For our county’s own benefit we should come out of the Cold war mentality and embrace the 21st century’s realities. Please read Sadanand Dhume’s article on WSJ how this mentality hurting us. Also USA has invited India to join F-35 program as a partner nation so it is the chance to learn about state of the art tech. not a 30 year old tech. We wouldn’t be getting everything but we could learn some of the advanced tech. Imagine how much chinese and russians learnt from a downed US plane in Serbia which has older stealth tech and what we can learn from operating one of the best fighting machine. We already getting and learning some of the best french tech by upgrading Mirage fighters, we wont learn much from the Rafale which is a 30 year old tech.

February 10, 2012 at 02:37

Operating a fleet of aircraft is very different from fighting an air supremacy battle. When one talk about an air battle in todays terms, its not just whose car is shinier or has a bigger engine,, the avionics, weapon control systems, radar coverage and interlinking combined with elint all coordinated by an efficient AWACS system is what can be a good winning factor. In todays digital age and knowing the double speak of the USA in times of crisis as demonstrated by history (especially when it comes to India), there are a few submissions :-
Firstly, I do not find fault with the US policy, they are doing whats best in their interest.
Secondly, with all our good relations apart and knowing their ever changing foreign policy, it would be unwise to go for a very very technologically advanced and expensive aircraft like the F35. Reason? The US industry is bound to have some tech that requires clearance from its soil or sources or a certain kind of digital dependency that would be a trump card in their hands in the times of an Indian crisis. This is not playing bogeyman, but lets face facts, its very very much possible.
Thirdly, in order to develop the indegenous industry and develop sound r&d facilities, the key is to go for joint development and not in buying off the shelf. In order not to compromise security in the name of indegenisation, one must have twice the budget required as one can buy COTS aircraft as well as keep own research and development of new aircraft on. The aim of all these purchases is not a boys with toys talk but carefully planned strategic decisions which I’m sure people with much more qualifications, experience and maturity than ours are well paid to take and make!!

February 9, 2012 at 22:04

F-35 would be always better choice than Rafale. US is also ready to make India one of the partner nation so we can learn something from it even if not everything. Having this potent machine in IAF arsenal is better than learning a 30-40 year old technology(Rafale by 2020 would be a 40 year old tech when India finishes its complete induction). I have a better proposal for spending $20B expected to be spend on MMRCA, buy 100 F-35 for $15B and rest $5B can go for a cheaper fighter as a stop gap measure(e.g. 100 Gripen or Mig-35 or even pushing for faster production of home developed LCA in large numbers). SU-30 MKI, FGFA and F-35 would be a better deterrence for China and F-35 could easily wipe out Paki missiles and nukes as they can go undetected in Pak air space. Pak doesn’t have anything to counter stealth and with their state of the art sensors F-35 can sniff out and destroy their missile and nukes.

February 9, 2012 at 21:56

I think F-35 could be a better choice than Rafale. Total life time cost for this deal of 126 fighters is expected to be around $20B, which means around $150m per plane for a 30 year old non stealth tech. What is the real gain we will get from this tech which will be 40 years old after their complete induction in Indian Air Force and when China will be flying J-20 in adequate numbers? Rafale is expected to join IAF by 2015 by which time F-35 would be in production. India is being a priority to US strategy in Asia, they would deliver it fast.
F-35 would defiantly give an edge to India, as it would be used for deep strike inside enemy territory undetected and SU-30 MKI and FGFA for Air Superiority. India could easily induct 100 F-35 for the price of 126 Rafale. Scrap the MMRCA and buy F-35 instead.

February 6, 2012 at 08:15

India is not Argentina nor Libya, French know who India is that is the reason French were wise not to impose sanction after nuclear test, that was the reason why French gave full diplomatic and technical support during Kargil war. Where was Britian at that time? Did we get support from Britian? Britian was in the forefront calling for sanction with her master USA, ofcourse time has change relationship with both USA and Britian has changed but French, Russia and Israel they have proven to be true friends in need not only reliable. So all the major wepons contract will definetly go to those three true friends in need.

February 5, 2012 at 09:26

Yeah, you’re right on that. If we had purchased smaller numbers of different aircrafts, we’d not have upset PM James Cameron the way we have now. Or for that matter the Americans or Russians. But surely someone at the MoD seems to have thought differently!

February 4, 2012 at 08:55


Appreciate your comments relating to the first issue. I am fully aware that France has by and large stood by India during the times of crisis. However, the second issue remains a concern. Because after acquisition of Rafale the backbone of the IAF will comprise of just one class of aircraft. A major technical problem in the aircraft during a period of potential crisis would be disastrous. I am not against the particular aircraft Rafale that is being procured. In fact, the same argument would be applicable to Typhoon or F-35 or F-22. Having a mix of various aircraft would mean that at least 65% of the combat aircraft in the fleet would be available for operations if in the event of any major problem occurring in one type of aircraft.

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
February 3, 2012 at 22:05

Its good for the Indian to buy Rafale fighting aircraft and to add its additional to its Indian air superiority in Indian ocean in order to guard its sovereignty against any invaders if ever and they can have a good military exercise within its neighboring countries that will create confidence building for the future of Universal generation in the future…

February 3, 2012 at 07:24


The answer to the first part of your question lies with history. If you consult that, you’d come to know that the French have always been very friendly, supportive & above all RELIABLE. Immedeately after India’s independance, the Portugese refused to surrender their colonies to the new government inspite of protracted negotiations. Finally military action became necessary. But the French graciously handed over their colonies before that, as soon as PM Nehru made a formal request. Fast forward to the Pokhraan-II tests, you may be aware that France was almost the only European nation that did not even condem India’s tests, when the rest of the world led by Unlce Sam were busy readying sanctions. Again, a year later, France, along with Russia & Israel were almost the only nations that actively supported India in the Kargil war. While Israel made available its UAV’s immedeately, France offered its laser targeting pods & laser-guided ammunitions for its Mirages which were found to be the most suitable for that altitude after the MIG’s performed miserably.
So historically speaking, France has stood by India in times of need & didn’t come here after the economic boom like other western nations. So its a much better bet. Having said that, i’d always prefer expensive indegenous hardware than cheap imports. Every successful weapon system today was somebody’s failure yesterday.

Regarding your second query about the Rafale developing any faults, you must understand that such things are always possible & normal with machines. No Engineer can guarantee 100% performance from his machines. So what’s important is not the problem itself, but how or will the French help us solve it? For instance the MIG-29′s were known to have performed poorly with the Iraqi AF scoring poorly against the Iraninan AF during the Iran-Iraq war. Even the Russians have grounded their fleet of MIG-29′s because of several hairline cracks appearing in its tail. However, the same aircraft was found to be airworthy & fit for combat duty in India. The IAf has invested significantly on this aircraft & so the success. I’m sure we’d have better success with any problems arising out of the Rafale as well.

February 3, 2012 at 06:28

@John Chan,

Its not me who’s confused. Its YOU! I’ve seen you commenting on various other posts on The Diplomat arguing on why the US is spending so much on its military (I won’t call it ‘defense’ for obvious reasons) when its economy is in ruins & public debt breaking through the roof. I’ve seen you calling the US a “war mongering” nation simply because of that. You seem to have problems with the US spending more & India spending less.

The reason why the US is spending so much more should’ve been obvious. While a good portion of that money is utilised for weapons acquistion, a great majority is used for sustaining the two wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. It also needs to shell out a lot for maintening its several overseas bases around the world. The mere cost of keeping a certain percentage of its forces on standby alert across the world itself would consume Billions. India, nor China for that matter arn’t trapped in such expensive mistakes and therefore are not required to shell out so much.

And here you are talking about penny pinching without understanding the dynamics of modern air wars. Behind the indimidating squadrons & squadrons of fighters & bombers a country has, is a whole range of “Force Enhancing” support systems such as Electronic Warfare aircrafts, Aerial reconaissance aircrafts, AWACS, Mid-air refueling tankers, Transport planes, dedicated ground strike aircrafts, drones etc., Can those be acquired in sufficien numbers if everything is spent on the fighters alone? For a coutry whose entire annual “capital acquisition” costs is the same as one years bill for the US to purchase F-35′s 3 years from now, being extra-cautious in those few pennies is not a bad idea after all!

February 2, 2012 at 15:01

When the European imperialists were trying to colonise India (and China to a little extent) French were much better than the doublespeak Brits. They never back-stabbed us.
But, the French had to give up protecting Indian princes when it lost the Seven Years War to the ‘not-so-Great’ Britain!

February 2, 2012 at 14:57

French might not be reliable with Argentinians, Libyans, et al but when it comes to India, they have been reliable since the time when India (as a political entity) got independence on August 15th, 1947.

February 2, 2012 at 14:54

Again an imaginary ’800 million’ figure! :D

February 2, 2012 at 09:45

Maybe if like the USA, China lends India a few billions every year, India will also spend lavishly on fighter aircraft. Also for the USA, spending on the military helps them create jobs and keep jobs because the only things made in America are weapons and Hollywood movies. If they were making their weapons outside America do you think they would spend so much ? Defense expenditure is an employment program for the USA.

February 2, 2012 at 09:37

It’s not the weapon but the warrior who achieves victory. Rafale is a very good fighter jet- better than the F-18, cheaper than the F-35 and also cheap to operate.

Rafale isn’t “cheap” but it is cheaper than the Typhoon and that’s good enough. Today the Rafale can do everything: air to air, air to ground, air to sea and can take off from carriers. Typhoon is only good for air to air. With the Meteor missile, the difference between Rafale and Typhoon will be slight.

To effectively use the Rafale India will need a lot of new bases, hangars, simulators and also AWACS and ELINT aircraft. Down the line in 12-15 years the French will do a mid-life upgrade and India will do one also – Dassualt is going to make some money on that also by using the money made now to invest on new research.

India has spread its net far and wide militarily and politically so no matter what happens no one nation or a grouping of nations can crippled India’s military. This is important for a country that imports weapons.

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