Late last week, during his state visit to Paris, France, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an unexpected request to purchase 36 French Dassault Rafale jets in “fly away” (i.e. ready for immediate operational use) condition.
“I asked [French president Francois Hollande] to supply us with 36 Rafale jet fighter planes, the ready-to-fly models,” Modi noted on April 10, at a joint press conference with France’s presidential residence.
Modi’s announcement represents a major advance for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) upgrade plans and represents a pragmatic approach to what had become a major point of contention for the two countries.
Last week’s announcement leaves the door open for India to purchase additional fighters from Dassault.
“France has always been a reliable supplier for India from jet fighters to submarines,” Modi said. “We want the terms and conditions to be negotiated on this issue and our civil servants are going to debate these aspects in depth and press ahead with the negotiations.”
French President Francois Hollande remarked that with the announcement of the deal, the defense relationship between India and France would shift “into a new gear.”
Dassault Aviation released a statement noting that it welcomed India’s “intention to finalize the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft at conditions that will allow [it] to meet rapidly the security needs of India.”
India, one of the largest importers of weapons worldwide, was slated to originally purchase 126 Rafale fighters as part of an $12 billion 2007 tender.
Over the years, Dassault has been in talks with the Indian side over the issue of manufacturing some of the fighters in India, under Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Over that time, the estimated cost of the tender inflated to around $20 billion dollars.
The government-to-government approach of the deal announced in Paris will greatly simplify the procurement process, meaning that the Rafales will find their way into the hands of Indian Air Force pilots sooner rather than later. It remains unclear how talks will proceed for the original tender for the MMRCA contract.
The specifics of indigenous manufacturing in India and liability issues have resulted in a gridlocked negotiation process that has encountered setback after setback. Since Modi came to office, the Indian and French defense ministries have been in constant talks over the Rafale contract.
Dassault’s Rafale, a twin-engine multi-role fighter, is particularly well suited for air supremacy, aerial reconnaissance, and interdiction scenarios.
The French Air Force and Navy operate Rafales equipped with Air-Sol Moyenne Portée (ASMP) missiles, giving the fighter a nuclear strike capability.
The Indian Air Force’s Rafales will be complemented by French Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters, Russian Su-30 MK-Is, the indigenously designed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, and older Russian MiG-29s and MiG-21s (which will eventually be phased out in favor of the Tejas).