New Delhi, Jan 4: The Indian Air Force's quest for a Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) is finally over with the Indian government confirming the order for 36 Rafale jets with the French government.
According to sources, documents for the government-to-government deal were delivered by New Delhi to Paris on New Year's eve, and the agreement is on the same lines as that for the Mirage 2000 aircraft signed in the early 1980s.
IAF will buy all the Rafale aircraft from Dassault, the French aircraft builder and integrator, in a flyaway condition.
As the deal is between governments, the French authorities will ensure that Dassault complies with the terms of reference as it has successfully done in the case of Mirage 2000 -- about 60 of which were delivered beginning 1985. The basic agreement was for 49 and 10 more were acquired later.
Significantly, this is the second deal for IAF - and Indian Army - within one week, the other being for Russian Kamov-31 helicopters signed on Christmas Eve with the Russian Government in Moscow during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit there. That deal involves substantial manufacture of these machines in India as the number is large -- more than 200.
It may be noted that originally IAF was to acquire 126 aircraft after the Rafale was selected in the MMRCA competition some time back, 18 in flyaway condition and 108 as progressively assembled and made in India by HAL under part Transfer of Technology (ToT). Private industry was to be involved, but HAL's share was negotiated as more than 70 percent.
There were a lot of hiccups, over costs of the aircraft -- over $100 million-plus per aircraft -- and offsets from the Indian side and responsibility over the quality of production in India from the French side. Finally, keeping in mind IAF's urgent requirements, the prime minister intervened to order 36 aircraft, or two squadrons, in a direct government-to-government deal during his visit to Paris in April.
This time, the deal involved no production in India but there were still some hiccups over the 50 percent stipulated offsets although aircraft costs would by and large have been the same as for the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air). Offset obligations would always be additional.
Modi, intervening again, spoke directly with French President Francois Hollande on telephone in early September, and expressed difficulty in concluding the deal without the offsets. Hollande graciously agreed, and IAF approved the deal in mid-December. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) delivered a copy of the Inter-Government Agreement in this regard through the established diplomatic channels just as the New Year was set to begin.
Under the deal, Dassault and its main partners -- engine-maker Safran and electronic systems-maker Thales -- will share some technology with DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and maybe some private sector companies and HAL under the offsets clause. Details are not known but as the aircraft have to be flown and maintained in India for at least three-to-four decades, a lot of information and technology upgrades will be needed to keep them operational.
The twin-engine Rafale combat jet is designed from the beginning as a multi-role fighter for air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks, is nuclear- capable and, thanks to its onboard Electronic Warfare (EW) systems, can also perform reconnaissance and radar jamming roles.
The deal involves delivery of aircraft to begin within three years of signing the agreement -- 2018-end in this case -- but French industry sources told this writer some time back in Paris that Dassault had started planning for the Indian order from mid-2015 itself, and "maybe the deliveries could be faster, if required".
Last year had been lucky for Dassault as the Rafale has also been selected by Egypt and Qatar, while the UAE is considering it seriously.
There are suddenly too many orders, and the only way to meet them is to divert the French Air Force requirements for the next few years. That is being done.