During an official state visit to India from March 10 to 12, French President Emanuel Macron in talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the sale of additional Dassault Rafale multirole fighter jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
“It is a long-term contract which is mutually beneficial. I personally consider it as the heart of the strategic partnership,” the French president said in a statement following talks with the Indian prime minister on March 10.
During a meeting that took place the same day, the French Defense Minister Florence Parly reportedly offered her Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman another batch of 36 Rafale fighter jets. The offer is currently under review by the Indian Ministry of Defense.
In September 2016, India signed a $8.7 billion deal for the procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft in “fly-away condition” following the cancellation of a deal for 126 fighter jets of the same type with 108 out of the 126 aircraft slated to be assembled locally in India.
In a joint statement issued at the end of the visit, Macro and Modi reiterated the strategic partnership between the two countries emphasizing defense cooperation. “The two leaders noted with satisfaction the on-schedule progress in the implementation of acquisition related agreements, including the Rafale aircraft agreement signed in 2016,” the statement reads. Macron and Modi discussed the expansion and deepening of ongoing defense manufacturing partnerships, according to the statement.
“They acknowledged that the Make-in-India initiative offers a valuable opportunity for Indian and French defense enterprises to enter into arrangements for co-development and co-production of defense equipment in India, including through transfer of know-how and technologies to the mutual benefit of all parties.”
The IAF has repeatedly pushed for additional Rafales as the number of operational aircraft in the service is slowly declining.The Rafale fighter jet is nuclear-capable and, armed with unguided nuclear bombs, would serve as part of India’s nuclear triad. The major objection to the fourth-generation aircraft remains it relatively high price tag (estimated to be around $115 million per aircraft.) Consequently, the IAF has been considering a number of cheaper alternatives to the Rafale. (Even Lockheed Martin’s F-35A is estimated to cost less than the French-made fighter jet.)
The IAF currently has a combat strength of around 33 squadrons, of which 30 (some source indicate 31) are combat ready. This is 12 squadrons below the mandated minimum requirement to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan. Based on that assessment, the IAF needs to add 200 to 250 new aircraft in the medium-weight fighter jet in the coming years. The IAF intends to achieve its goal of fielding 42 combat ready fighter squadrons by 2027.