Big jet deal awaits French minister

Hollande keen to push Rafale sale

Big jet deal awaits French minister

As the Narendra Modi government settles down, France is set to dispatch its Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to pick up the threads of negotiations on the 126 fighter jet deal, which is India’s biggest military contract so far.

“Foreign Minister Fabius, who is number two in the government, is planning to come in the coming weeks. Dates are being worked out, but it may happen by end June,” French Ambassador Francois Richier said here on Thursday.

The official said French President Francois Hollande spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and invited him for a visit to Paris by 2014 end.

Asked about the fate of the much anticipated negotiations between Dassault Aviation and the Defence Ministry, he said, “significant progress” was made last spring when the work-share agreement between Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was worked out.

More than two years ago, India zeroed in on French Rafale fighter jets for the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft deal. Since then the two sides have been negotiating on the cost.

As per the tender, Dassault will deliver 18 aircraft in fly-away condition whereas HAL would manufacture the rest under licensed production. 

Though the tender was valued at $10.4 billion (Rs 42,000 crore), the price is set to escalate to $ 17-20 billion in the final commercial contract, making it India’s biggest defence deal.

“Negotiations were continuing on the same track. We have clarified on the defence ministry’s queries on the life cycle cost. The negotiations take time and there is no timeline,” he said.

Briefing journalists on the ongoing Garuda-5 exercise between India and France Air Forces at Jodhpur, Group Captain Benedict Smith, Defence Attache at the French Embassy, said the chiefs of two air forces will cross-fly the respective fighters on Monday. The exercise will continue till June 13.

The cross-flying means Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha is slated to take off in a French Rafale jet from Jodhpur air base whereas his French counterpart Gen Denis Mercier will fly a Su-30 MKI aircraft of the IAF. This is the fifth edition of the bilateral air exercise that began in 2003.

Besides the Sukhois, there will be MiG-27, MiG-21 BIS, IL-78 tanker, IL-76 AWACS and a slow moving aircraft like C-130J or AN-32 from the Indian side.

France will have C-135 tanker. This is the first time Rafale fighters will participate in an air exercise in India, though they flew in Bangalore air show in the past.

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