Indian Air Force (IAF) quest to acquire the Dassault manufactured Rafale multi-role fighter aircraft has stalled yet again. India’s Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, has confirmed that the Rafale will not fly in IAF’s colour, if the price factor is not worked out. This news comes even as Indian and French negotiators are working relentlessly to iron out any residual issues.
The NDA-led government, citing various reasons had cancelled IAF’s ambitious MMRCA deal to acquire 126 Rafale fighter jets. The government in consultation with IAF instead had opted to acquire 36 Rafale fighter jet, off the shelf from France. Delhi and Paris had signed a historic Government-Government deal during Modi’s visit to France. This deal was further fortified when a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed during Hollande’s visit to Delhi.
However, both the nations have made little progress since the inking of MoU. Parrikar in a statement to a leading news agency was quoted saying “Price is the problem which has to be resolved. We have resolved all other issues.” When asked if a time frame was in place, the minister said, “If I am buying something, I cannot hurry on the price, agreement also does not limit the time frame,” The full extract of the interview can be read here.
India has been bargaining hard for the Rafale’s ever since an off-shelf deal was worked out. Various issues like offset liabilities have been worked out. Dassualt – Rafale’s manufacturer – has even hinted about setting up a state-of-the-art assembly line in India. This is a win-win situation for both India and Dassualt. The company has backed several orders from foreign air forces besides the French forces. The current production rate at the existing French facility is a mere 16-18 aircraft per year.
Sources have indicated that India is skilfully negotiating to acquire the jets well within INR 65,000 crores. India has made clear that they shall not budge to any pressure tactics that Dassault may employ. French negotiators have been demanding a whopping INR 90,000 crore for the 36 fighter aircraft. Rafale has already agreed to India’s 30% off-set clause. However, India is adamant that France waives off at least 30% for each aircraft.
The Indian Air Force, under its command has 27 operational fighter squadrons as against the sanctioned strength of 45 squadrons. The air force has not inducted any fighter aircraft to its inventory in the past decade, except the Su – 30 MKI air superiority aircraft. The air force losing its air superiority in the region is a growing concern in the South Block. Pakistan and Chinese Air Force have been inducting aircraft at an alarming level.
In a measure to address these shortcomings, the air force has opted to induct 40 more Su-30 MKI aircraft to its inventory. However, this is only a stop gap measure. The Su-30’s are air superiority aircraft and the Rafale’s are multi-role combat aircraft. The roles of the aircraft are distinct. Time and again serving Chief of Air Staff (CAS) have clearly stated that the Rafale’s and Sukhoi’s are of a different class.
It is imperative that the air force inducts the Rafale aircraft to maintain its air superiority in the region. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meet scheduled for 23 February 2016 may shed light on the solution to overcome these hurdels .