India, France discuss expanding Rafale deal

India, France discuss expanding Rafale deal
On the eve of French President Francois Hollande’s visit, negotiators from India and France are looking at expanding the Rafale deal after the first 36 fighter jets are delivered to the Indian Air Force as per original plan.

The government-to-government deal for 36 jets was agreed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited France in April 2015.  Since then, the  defence ministry cancelled a previous tender to purchase 126 multi role fighter jets arguing that the deal would be too expensive. The French president is scheduled to arrive on January 25 and he will be the chief guest for the Republic Day.

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale was the selected platform in the 126 aircraft tender as well. As negotiators scramble to prepare a document on the Rafale deal for the Modi-Hollande summit meeting, there is no official word on whether the commercial agreement would be inked. Inclusion of the “option” clause to buy more aircraft is one of the unresolved issues.

Reports from France, quoting unnamed sources pegged the deal at approximately $9 billion, but it is unclear if the package would include the cost of weapons and training. Also resolving the offset obligations was the hardest parts in the negotiations, where the two sides have reportedly achieved a breakthrough. With depleting fighter strength, IAF was looking at the Rafale deal to add some strength in its wings.

But the Air Force headquarters too has not come up with a road-map on how the gap of 90 aircraft would be filled as the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft will need more time to become fully combat ready.

Modi and Hollande are expected to give a fresh push to the Rafale deal for different reasons. For Modi, it will be arming the military, whereas for Hollande it would spur economic activities in the backdrop of the economic emergency that he announced.

A follow-on order for three more Scorpene submarines to be manufactured at Mazgaon dock in Mumbai could figure in their meeting.  The first Scorpene submarine being manufactured with French collaboration is undergoing trial and expected to be inducted by later this year.

All the six submarines are likely to be delivered to the Navy by 2020 as per the existing contract. If materialise, the follow on order would allow the MDL to explore the air independent propulsion technology that allows submarines to stay under water for a longer time than conventional diesel-electric submarines.

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