Bengaluru, April 11: Thirty-six Rafale jets for the plane-deprived Indian Air Force (IAF) from Dassault Aviation! That's buzz all around since last night after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprang yet another surprise.
Finally, the much-hyped mother of all deals jettisoned out of the red-tape-trap, with even the number 36 surprising many.
Plane pundits are already out with many theories, with some even wondering the ‘logic' behind going for such a small order, which is just enough to fill only two Squadrons.
But, those who saw the Rafale script from close quarters confirm to OneIndia that the story is far from over. Any more surprises on this front? "Can't predict," they say.
HAL will be kept in the loop
Sources confirm that the Modi government is in no mood to push Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) away, despite a strong private lobby wanting it to be out of the Rafale frame.
"Any additional orders for Rafales will have to be via the Make in India route and it will be HAL who will be manufacturing the same. The private sector too will be roped in subsequently," an official in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
When asked about the fate of various Price Negotiation Committees (PNCs) looking into the 126 MMRCA deal, the official said: "Some clarity will emerge in the next one month."
The official said that the government was ‘aware of the implications' it would face following its decision to take the direct purchase route.
"It was expected that many would see it as a stand away from the Make in India policy. The numbers (36) should be seen as a pointer towards the government's thought process. Private industries and HAL will play a significant role in the new scheme of things set to unfold," the official said.
When asked whether RFP process in which Dassault Aviation has emerged as an L-1 stands nullified now, the official refused to comment.
Fate of RFP a closed chapter: Matheswaran
Reacting to the deal, Air Marshal M Matheswaran (Retd), former Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (Policy, Planning and Development), IAF and currently an Advisor to HAL, told OneIndia the government's was keen to find a quick solution.
"The PNCs are good if they find a logical solution. In my personal opinion the RFP is a closed chapter now. I am sure the government will take a fresh call. All the future moves will be linked to Make in India, ToT (Transfer of Technology), production standards, delivery schedules and HAL's role," says Matheswaran. He had played a significant role when the IAF decided to go for the MMRCAs.
"The fate of the RFP (for the 126 Rafales as per the original tender now estimated around $20 billion) is now in the hands of the government. Plugging the gap was the key. The government could go in for any aircraft now which can fit into the Make in India plan," says the former IAF official, now a leading think-tank on military matters.
Govt got some breathing space now
When asked about the allegations that ‘HAL will not be in a position to roll out quality Rafales,' Matheswaran said that the premier aerospace company has been delivering different types of aircraft over the years.
"The vendor has no business to raise the issue at the end of the negotiation. Yes, I am for a good private eco system coming up for the benefit of aviation in India," Matheswaran said.
He said the decision to buy 36 Rafales in a fly-away was purely to strengthen the strategic partnership with the France. ‘It's a G-to-G decision and we have had the Mirages-2000s coming in the same format 30 years back," he added.
He said the government has got some breathing space now with the decision to go in for 36 fighters. "There's some room to move around. The freedom to take new decisions," Matheswaran added.
He said that the Dassault has the capability to deliver all the 36 Rafales to IAF in the next two years.
HAL's Bangalore Complex warms up to Rafale
HAL insiders say that the Company has gone some distance in handling a new fighter plane and associated technologies. HAL's famed Bangalore Complex, which has manufactured many flying platforms in the last seven decades, has already warmed up to the Rafales.
"We have spent lot of time in the last five years. Much before the Make in India concept came, we were prepared to handle a new platform. It is now certain that the IAF will go for more Rafales. We have held series of consultations with Dassault and many of our engineers have gone to their facilities has well," an official said.
When asked about the built-quality concerns, the official said, "It's unfair to rake up a scenario before we reach there. There could have been instances of quality concerns in the past, but Bangalore Complex's recent track record in delivering Hawks needs to be factored in."
OneIndia has confirmed that HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju is among the delegates accompanying Modi during the current Paris trip.
Photos: Basani Satheesh Kumar, MoD
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)