India’s ambitious Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract is facing hurdles at the negotiation table, as sources say Dassault it seeking to absolve itself of responsibility for the copies of its Rafale fighter to be assembled in India by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL).

Under an agreement, the Indian air force (IAF) is likely to get 18 Rafale aircraft from Dassault Aviation in fly-away condition. The rest would be manufactured by HAL under license from the French company. However, IAF sources indicate Dassault is raising doubts about HAL’s capabilities, and has indicated that it cannot be held responsible for the quality of the HAL-built aircraft.

Soon after Rafale was shortlisted by the IAF in 2012, the defense ministry rejected Dassault’s demand to make it the lead integrator for the 108 aircraft to be produced in India, as the program’s request for proposals specifically indicated that role was to be HAL’s.

The current bone of contention is Dassault’s demand for two separate contracts: one for the 18 aircraft to be built by the firm in France, and the other for the 108 aircraft to be integrated in India by HAL. The defense ministry has rejected this demand and told Dassault it must be solely responsible for the entire lot of 126 aircraft, as per the original proposal.

Dassault’s concern is understandable, as HAL has faced criticism from the defense ministry and the IAF for delays in various projects. Defense Minister A.K. Antony has expressed disappointment at the slow pace of development of a number of crucial HAL defense programs, and has also asked the company’s management to spend more on research and development.

Nonetheless, the Indian defense ministry says “all is well” with the estimated $15 billion deal.

“There are several issues” being negotiated, an IAF spokesman told Aviation Week. “The contract negotiation procedure is going on. This is a major deal. A lot of issues need to be sorted before things are finalized.”

Meanwhile, local media have reported that the IAF may purchase additional Su-30MKIs if the Rafale talks falter. “The IAF strongly denies such reports,” the IAF spokesman says. “There is no thought process for any procurement as a ‘backup’ as reported.”

The multibillion dollar deal would be the first export order for Dassault. The French fighters would replace India’s aging MiG-21 fleet from the Soviet era.

The Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon became the finalists in 2011 after India ruled out the Boeing F/A-18, Lockheed Martin F-16, Saab Gripen and United Aircraft Corporation MiG-35. India had expected to finalize the MMRCA deal before the end of its last fiscal year, which concluded March 31.

Rafale photo: Dassault