French minister to push for Rafale deal

French minister to push for Rafale deal

French Defence Minister Jaen Yves Le Drian is scheduled to visit Delhi later this week, giving rise to speculations of “forward movement” in India’s biggest defence deal to purchase 126 fighter jets from France.

For the last two years, India and France are locked in price negotiation to purchase the medium multi-role fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF). French major Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter planes were selected to replace ageing MiG-21s.

The much-awaited deal, sources said, is on the agenda of bilateral talks between Le Drian and his Indian counterpart A K Antony, including National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, between July 25-27.

But there is no confirmation on whether an announcement on finalisation of the deal can be expected by the week-end.

The French minister will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and members of the Parliamentary standing committee on defence, sources said. Dassault Aviation had earlier raised questions on the role HAL would play once the mega deal is signed. But the Defence Ministry is understood to have conveyed to the French company that HAL would be the lead integrator and there was no change in conditions mentioned in the original tender.

As per the tender, Dassault will deliver 18 aircraft in fly-away condition whereas HAL will manufacture the rest under licensed production. The top bosses of HAL and Dassault met last month on the sidelines of the Paris air show to discuss the project and iron out differences. “Both chairmen expressed satisfaction on the work already achieved by the integrated teams and renewed their commitment towards successful completion of various projects,” Dassault said in a statement issued in June.

Though the tender was valued at $ 10.4 billion (Rs 42,000 crore), the price is set to escalate in the final commercial contract, making it India’s biggest defence deal. The new price band may be between $ 17-20 billion, but there is no official word. The sliding rupee will also be taken into account for the new price that is being negotiated for two years.

The French minister will be travelling to IAF station in Gwalior, which houses the Mirage-2000 fleet. In 2011, India signed a Rs 10,900 crore (approximately $ 2.4 billion) agreement with French arms majors Thales and Dassault Aviation for upgrading 51 Mirage-2000 fighters.

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