Pact with French fighter aircraft firm delayed

The defence ministry has ruled out concluding the much-awaited commercial agreement with French aviation major Dassault Aviation to buy 126 fighter aircraft for Indian Air Force in this fiscal as a result of which IAF will have to fly its ageing fighter fleet for a longer time.

In January, the defence ministry selected the French company for buying 126 fighters in which six companies participated.

The government hoped to finish price negotiation by the middle of 2012 and ink the agreement before March 2013 to accelerate phasing out of vintage MiG aircraft. Ten months down the line it looks like a pipe dream.

A defence ministry official on Wednesday ruled out signing the contract in the next four months. “A deadline of three to four months looks little ambitious,” he said denying comments made by the Indian Ambassador to France who hoped that defence ministry would conclude the deal in the next three-four months. Talking to journalists in London on Tuesday, Ambassador Rakesh Sood said price negotiation on Dassaut's Rafale fighters progressed slower than expected but the deal was likely to be closed in the next 3-4 months.

A day later defence ministry rejected the deadline after defence minister A K Antony reviewed the progress made so far in various acquisition programme by the three services.

Even though as per the initial tender, India intended to buy 126 combat jets at a price of $ 10.4 billion, the cost is expected to be escalated to close to $ 20 billion in the commercial contract, which will make it India's biggest military deal.

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