French minister to push for Rafale deal during visit

French minister to push for Rafale deal during visit

French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian is set to arrive in New Delhi on Sunday to push for early conclusion of the Rafale fighter plane deal that has been pending for the last three years.

He will meet his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar on December 1 and the two are expected to discuss bilateral relations in defence, including the 126 fighter jet deal. He would also be given a guard of honour.

Almost three years ago, India shortlisted Rafale as the preferred platform to replace the ageing MiG-21 fighter jets of the Indian Air Force. The deal, however, has not been inked even after three years of protracted negotiations.

“There are still unresolved issues on several fronts, costs being the most important one,” said an official. A special offset condition of 50 per cent of the value being reinvested in India, is another thorny issues. A major milestone was achieved a few months back when the jet manufacturer Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited finalised the work-share agreement.

Last July when the French minister met former defence minister A K Antony, he said India and France would sign an inter-governmental agreement in recognition of the commitment shown by Paris on India’s biggest defence deal. Even that inter-governmental agreement is still not in place.

Within weeks of Narendra Modi taking over as the Prime Minister, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited India to discuss the deal with the new leadership. He also met then defence minister Arun Jaitley.

French officials said they were not worried about the delay as there was no target date in the first place. The negotiations for upgrading Mirage fighter jets and manufacturing of Scorpene submarines in Mazgaon dock in Mumbai took 2-3 years each. With the change of guard in New Delhi, there is a renewed lobbying effort to bring in players like Eurofighter Typhoon, which lost out to Rafale in the trials.  This, defence ministry officials said, was not possible as per the defence procurement procedure without cancelling the ongoing process first.

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