India is unlikely to buy more than 36 French Rafale fighters as of now, less than one-third of the 126 jets that were envisaged under the now-scrapped $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project.
But another 20 Rafale jets might be procured at a later stage to make a total of three squadrons, much like what was done in the acquisition of Mirage-2000s from France in the mid-1980s.
India hopes to ink the deal for the direct purchase of the first 36 fighters in “a flyaway condition” by around August, following which the fighters are to be delivered over the next two years.
As was decided during the Modi-Hollande summit in Paris on April 10, India will get “better terms and conditions” for the 36 Rafales under a government-to-government agreement.
“The discussions (between high-level Indian and French contract negotiating committees) started on May 13. Let them complete the discussions and come back. As of now, there are only 36 Rafales, which was the mandate given by the PM,” said defence minister Manohar Parrikar, talking to Times of India.
“The direct acquisition of 36 Rafales is based on the IAF’s critical operational requirement. What is the final offer at the end of the discussions, it will be considered then. I will not like to comment at this stage… let the discussions come to some conclusion,” he added.
Under the deadlocked MMRCA project, in which Rafale emerged the winner in January 2012 after a hotly-contested open global competition, the first 18 jets were to come in “a flyaway condition”. The rest 108 were to be made by Hindustan Aeronautics in India after transfer of technology.
But the acquisition of all the 126 fighters would have been “a very steep slope to climb financially”, given that it would have required around Rs 1,30,000 crore over 10-12 years, said Parrikar.
But how does the “Make in India” policy tie in with the outright purchase of the 36 Rafales? “There is a Make in India component with the 50% offsets clause in the contract (France will have to plough back 50% of the contract value back into India as offsets)… We have to use it properly,” he said.
The final MMRCA negotiations had stalled over the pricing for the 108 fighters to be produced by HAL, with it costing “2.7 times” more than what was originally envisaged, as was reported by TOI.
The relatively fast-track acquisition of even the 36 Rafale fighters will come as a big relief for the IAF, which is down to just 34 fighter squadrons when at least 44 are required to be confident against China and Pakistan. What makes the situation even more alarming is the fact that the existing four MiG-27 and 10 MiG-21 squadrons in the combat fleet have to be progressively retired in the 2016-2022 timeframe.