PARIS and NEW DELHI—Three years after India opted to purchase the for its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program in a deal that was to have all but 18 of 126 aircraft produced in India, the nation is now on the verge of finalizing the purchase of an additional 36 French-built Rafales.
In a statement issued April 10 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Paris, the Indian premier said New Delhi would purchase 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition “as quickly as possible,” though both the Indian and French governments said further negotiations are still underway.
Modi and French President Francois Hollande agreed to conclude an intergovernmental agreement to supply the 36 Rafale aircraft under a deal that is separate from a three-year-old negotiation between Paris and New Delhi over the sale of 126 Rafale fighters under the MMRCA tender, which calls for 108 of the combat jets to be produced by. (HAL) in India.
The joint statement said delivery of the 36 Rafale aircraft would occur according to a timeframe compatible with operational requirements of the(IAF), and that the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be supplied in the same configuration as those already tested and approved by the IAF under the MMRCA tender, albeit “with a longer maintenance responsibility by France.”
If concluded, the deal would be a boon to Dassault Aviation, which is already riding high after recently selling 24 Rafales to Egypt, to be delivered by 2019. The company’s stock was up nearly 4% on the morning of April 10, based upon reports of the pending 36-aircraft deal with India.
Dassault’s success in lining up Rafale’s first 60 export orders this year, while preserving the prospect of licensed production in India, is a valuable boost for the program. In particular, the orders make it much more likely that the Rafale will remain in production, along with’s , both to compete in markets where the Joint Strike Fighter is not on offer (including the Middle East) and to compete directly with the JSF for some orders, including Belgium and Canada.
Compared with the picture two years ago, before Brazil selected Gripen, the French and Swedish fighters have both gained new footholds in the international market, while their competitors —theSuper Hornet and the —have not.
The question now is whether the major fighter contests underway will continue this trend, or whether some will choose Typhoons or Hornets. These include Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait—where Gripen does not compete, by Swedish policy—and Malaysia.
A two-way split of the non-JSF market would leave both Rafale and the Gripen family stronger than a continued four-way battle, and would chip away at one aspect of the JSF-marketing strategy.representatives, briefing customers and potential partners, have repeatedly shown market projections in which all rival fighters exit the market by 2020, in an attempt to show that JSF is the only viable long-term answer to fighter needs.
Dassault and its Indian counterparts have been struggling not only over the financial value of the deal to replace India’s MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters and the unprecedented level of technology transfer involved, but also who would carry responsibility for the quality of the work done in India—Dassault or its Indian partner, HAL.
But a potential way past the disagreement emerged during Dassault’s recent delivery of upgraded Mirage 2000 fighters to the IAF. The first two were upgraded at the company’s Istres facility in southern France, but the remaining 47 will be modernized by HAL in Bangalore.
“The ‘Make in India’ strategy has always been a driving factor for us,” Dassault Aviation Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said in March during the Mirage handover to New Delhi. “We have established a close relationship with HAL—the major partner to the program—since they are upgrading the rest of the fleet in India and developing additional capabilities on their own on the Mirage 2000.”
In a statement issued April 10, Trappier welcomed India’s intention to finalize the acquisition of 36 Rafale jets.
“Just as we are delivering the first upgraded Mirage 2000, I am delighted by the decision of the Indian authorities which gives a new impetus to our partnership for the next decades and comes within the scope of the strategic relationship gathering France and India,” he said.
As much as this appears to be good news for both France and India, trouble awaits Modi back home. A national executive member of Modi’s party, Subramanian Swamy, has threatened to go to court if the government decides to buy the Rafale aircraft.
“If the prime minister for some other ‘compulsion’ decides to go ahead with the deal, I will have no option but to approach the court to get it set aside,” Swamy said.
During his visit to France, Modi is scheduled to visit Toulouse on April 11, where he will tour both the French space agency andGroup facilities.