India’s multi-billion dollar deal with French firm Dassault Aviation for the purchase of 126 Rafale fighter jets has hit snags. Reports in the Indian media indicate that the deal may collapse if the visit to India by a French “empowered” delegation this month fails.
India had announced in January 2012 that French firm Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jet had been selected for its air force because it met its combat aircraft requirement. But subsequent negotiations with France have failed to make visible progress.
The deal, initially estimated at $10 billion but subsequently soared upwards of $20 billion, is one of the biggest military contracts in the world. But The Telegraph, Calcutta, reported the negotiations hitting serious hurdles.
Three years after the selection, a senior Indian defense official has confirmed that the Indian negotiators are wary because “the French seem to be going back on their word”.
India’s Defense minister Manohar Parrikar had lead the negotiations with his French counterpart in December last year. But Indian Defense Ministry sources told The Telegraph the two sides had failed to bridge their differences over the aircraft that would be assembled under a license in India.
Ministry sources say the contract negotiations are log-jammed over the issue of guarantees for those among the 126 aircraft that are to be made in India. They say the Request for Proposals – or global tender issued in 2007 – had specifically said that all 126 aircraft had to be guaranteed to operate for a specific number of hours by the original equipment manufacturer, in this case Dassault.
French sources said earlier this month that they were not too worried about the prolonged negotiations. Indeed, they said, the contract to upgrade the Indian Air Force’s Mirage 2000 aircraft, also supplied by Dassault, had taken longer than three years.
The deal with India is a big one for the Rafale company as it will be the first mega export order for the aircraft. As per the Request for Proposal (RFP), the first 18 jets planes are to be imported and the rest manufactured under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), said DNAIndia in a separate report.
The delay has put some Indian planners to look for other options in case the deal collapses. Indian defense ministry officials, according to The Telegraph, speculated privately on what the air force’s options were – ordering more Sukhoi-30 MKIs from Russia, for instance – to meet the requirement for medium multi-role combat aircraft being one of them.
A former air chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne (now ambassador to Norway), had said that “there is no Plan B”, underlining the urgency of procuring the Rafale. Nor do the rules of procurement permit opening negotiations with other potential suppliers under the same tender. If the L1 (the lowest bidder, Rafale) is not found to be compliant, the tender would have to be scrapped, pushing back the already delayed acquisition program by several more years at a time the air force’s combat strength is falling by the month. The Rafale was selected over five other competitors.
Indian officials are still not ruling out a contract with the French because they believe that Dassault, which has not been able to sell the aircraft to any air force apart from France’s own Armee de l’air, is under pressure to bag the Indian contract. The Rafale struggle to find an export market is attributed to its high cost, complexity and a design that was a marked shift from France’s last big-name fighter jet, the Mirage. It’s deals with Brazil, Libya and Switzerland to buy the Rafale have all fallen through, often at the last minute.
India is the world’s biggest arms importer as an economic boom has allowed it to modernize its military. Major arms manufacturers are wooing the country as it replaces its obsolete Soviet-era weapons and buys new equipment. India already has a fleet of the older Mirage jets.
India’s air force has around 700 fighter aircraft and is only exceeded in size by the United States, Russia and China.
Growing worries about China’s fast-expanding military and the decades-old mistrust of Pakistan have fueled India’s impetus to add heft to its defense forces.
The Rafale, according to Defense Industry Daily, is a 9.5 – 10.5 tonne aircraft powered by 2 SNECMA M88 jet engines, each generating up to 16,500 pounds thrust with afterburner. Canards are used to improve maneuverability, especially for snap-shots in short-range dogfights, and radar shaping lowers the aircraft’s profile relative to 4th generation competitors like the Mirage 2000 or F-16.
Despite its size, the Rafale can carry an impressive set of ordnance beyond its 30mm DEFA 791 cannon: up to 9.5 tonnes of weapons and stores on 14 pylons (1-2 on center fuselage, 2 below engine intakes, 6 underwing and 2 wingtip pylons), 5 of which are “wet” pylons that can carry heavy stores or fuel tanks. Its Thales RBE2 mechanically-scanned array or RBE2-AA AESA radar can direct MBDA’s MICA RF missiles, and future integration of the long-range Meteor is also planned. A combination of Thales/SAGEM’s OST Infrared Scan and Track optronics, and MBDA’s MICA IR medium-range missiles, allows the Rafale to supplement its radar-guided missiles with passively-targeted, no-warning attacks on enemy aircraft from beyond visual range. At present, this capability is only duplicated by Russian aircraft: Sukhoi’s SU-27/30 family, and advanced MiG-29s.