India Picks Rafale Fighter

India’s Defense Ministry has picked the Rafale fighter over the Eurofighter for a $20 billion military contract.

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.

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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.