Air chief marshal Arup Raha has said that it is critical to keep the $25 billion (Rs 1,50,000 crore) French Rafale fighter deal on schedule as the IAF cannot afford any more delays.
Raha’s comments are significant as the Eurofighter consortium, backed by four European countries, is trying to re-enter the race to sell its Typhoon fighters to India.
The Germany-led consortium has come up with a revised proposal — sweetened with a discount — to sell 126 Typhoons to India, despite losing the world’s biggest fighter contract to Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale fighter, two-and-a-half years ago.
In an exclusive interview to HT, Raha said, “It will not be appropriate to make any changes in the process. The current government has set the pace of work and things are moving fast enough on the fighter deal.”
The IAF chief refused to set a deadline for signing the Rafale deal but said “it’s going to happen soon”. India had selected Rafale fighters over Typhoons in January 2012 after Dassault Aviation emerged as the lowest bidder.
“Rafale has run through the finish line. It’s too late in the day to parachute into the race. The door is closed,” a senior defence ministry official said on the counteroffer made by the European consortium.
If India were to sign the Rafale deal today, the IAF will induct the last of the 126 fighters only by 2025. The acquisition is crucial as China is modernising its air force at a ripping pace.
The official said there was no provision in defence procurement rules to re-open the fighter competition at this stage to the consortium — backed by Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain. It can make a comeback only if India is willing to scrap the deal and start from scratch.
The process of buying advanced fighters began in 2001, leading to the defence ministry floating a global tender to six foreign vendors in August 2007.
The consortium had made a counteroffer to the United Arab Emirates to sell 60 Typhoons but talks to seal the deal collapsed last December. It was competing with Rafale for the UAE order.