The Indian government is likely to conclude a multibillion contract with Dassault Aviation for 126 Rafale fighters in six months or less, with contract negotiations reaching a crucial stage and inquiries into the selection process concluded.

Sources stressed that “all hurdles have been cleared,” following questions in the Indian parliament about how the commercial bids were interpreted.

“All inquiries into due process have been completed. Contract negotiations are now on as normal,” says a senior acquisition official with the defense ministry.

Negotiations, sources say, are now focusing on the cost of transferring technology, the cost of maintenance, total life cycle cost in a stipulated time period, and the unit cost of each aircraft acquired. It is expected — or hoped, at least — that the negotiations will enter a final stretch in January 2013 with a draft contract drawn up by February.

The Rafale was chosen in January, beating out the Eurofighter Typhoon in India’s Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, which could cost up to $20 billion and exceed the initial 126-aircraft order in the long term.

Nevertheless, India has suffered from a notoriously long-winding and scandal-plagued acquisition history, and as much as the MMRCA has been trumpeted as a model for good, the final outcome remains to be seen.

An Indian air force (IAF) officer associated with the MMRCA program says that the inquiry ordered by Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony following a fellow politician’s complaint found nothing amiss. The minister is said to have responded, assuring Indian lawmakers that the methodology and process used by the Contract Negotiations Committee to interpret the commercial bids were “reasonable and appropriate” and “within the terms of the [request for proposals] and Defense Procurement Procedure 2006” guidelines.

Besides the Eurofighter, the Rafale beat the Russian MiG-35, Swedish Gripen IN and American F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-16 IN Super Viper.

Dassault Aviation declined comment on the ongoing contract negotiations, though an executive who wished to remain anonymous claimed that “there were no issues to begin with. Clarifications made have been found to be satisfactory. The process continues on schedule.”

The recent delivery of the first Rafale sporting an active, electronically scanned array radar is being seen as a boost to Rafale’s India campaign. Details about the delivery and the production aircraft were recently shared with the IAF through French diplomatic channels in Paris.

The IAF counts the MMRCA as its most ambitious and complex acquisition ever, but it has experienced last-minute program aborts in the past, notably the 2010 cancellation of its mid-air tanker buy, after it had evaluated and chosen the Airbus A330 MRTT.

Rafale photo: Dassault