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India to Consider French Fighter Jets for Navy’s Newest Aircraft Carrier

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India to Consider French Fighter Jets for Navy’s Newest Aircraft Carrier

France’s Dassault Aviation will brief Indian Navy officials on the naval version of the Rafale aircraft this week.

India to Consider French Fighter Jets for Navy’s Newest Aircraft Carrier
Credit: U.S. Navy

Representatives of French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation are slated to meet with senior officials of the Indian Navy to pitch the naval version of the Dassault Rafale twin-engine, fourth generation multirole fighter this week, according to local media reports.

The briefing is scheduled for January 29.

Sources within India’s Defense Ministry said that New Delhi has asked four countries (France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia) for proposals for the design of the country’s first 65,000-ton supercarrier, the INS Vishal, the second ship of the Vikrant-class. The INS Vishal will allegedly feature significant design changes from the lead vessel, the INS Vikrant, including possible nuclear propulsion and Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS). The INS Vikrant, by comparison, will feature a Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) configuration.

While the INS Vikrant will carry MIG 29K fighter aircraft, the Indian Navy is still undecided whether it will stick with the Russian-made aircraft for the INS Vishal, according to sources. The type of aircraft stationed aboard the new supercarrier will heavily influence the new vessel’s design and is thus of critical importance. The Indian Navy is interested in purchasing up to 54 new aircraft.

It is unclear whether the Rafale fighter jet has been shortlisted. Also, France’s competitors are unlikely to give up without putting up a fight.

A spokeswoman of MIG Russian Aircraft Corporation told reporters last week that the company was ready to supply MIG 29K multi-role fighter aircraft for the INS Vishal: “”MiG and India’s Ministry of Defense are long-term partners. We are linked by many years of successful cooperation. We would certainly be ready to supply fighter jets for the new aircraft carrier.”

French President Francois Hollande landed in India yesterday for a three-day state visit, in which he wants to solidify the Indo-French strategic partnership. Among other things, Hollande hopes to finalize the long-awaited $9 billion sale of 36 Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (See: “What’s on François Hollande’s Agenda in India?”).

As I reported previously (See: “Confirmed: India to Buy Only 36 Rafale Fighter Jets”):

Initially, the MMRCA [medium multi-role combat aircraft] project envisioned that India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would build 108 out of a 126 total Rafale jets locally, with the first batch of 18 fighter jets directly delivered from France in flyaway condition.

However, New Delhi unexpectedly announced in April of this year that it would only purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighters instead of the original 126.(…)

The price tag for the 36 off-the-shelf Rafale will substantially be cheaper since France is no longer obligated to build the planes in India. (…)

However, the current contract under negotiation includes a offset clause which stipulated that France will have to invest 50 percent of the contract value as offsets in India.

The offset clause is one of the politically most important features of the contract for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The idea we have in mind is the one of an intergovernmental agreement between the two countries in order to allow the firms involved to go all the way,” Hollande recently told journalists. A memorandum to that effect, along with 13 other agreements, was signed today, according to Indian media reports. “There are some financial issues that will be sorted out in a couple of days, but the memorandum has been signed,” Hollande announced.