NEW DELHI: South Block is abuzz with hectic activities ahead of the signing of the defence deal to buy Rafale fighter jets, with barely a month left for the scheduled visit of French President Francois Hollande to New Delhi. The two countries are expected to sign the deal for 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in fly-away condition during Hollande’s next month visit.
South block sources have said that efforts are being made to conclude the negotiations as early as possible. But officials privy to the development have claimed that though the technical negotiations have been completed, the commercial bids are yet to be finalised by the negotiation committee, which comprises officials from the Indian Air Force, Defence ministry and Dassault Aviations, which manufactures Rafale multi-medium-role combat aircraft.
“Agreements on technical issues, including type of weaponry and offset have been settled, but the unit price is still an issue. Efforts are being made to expedite it so it can be finalise before the French President’s visit,” said a source.
Both sides have negotiated that after finalisation of the deal, supply of first fighter jet will be within three years.
According to sources in the defence ministry, mammoth efforts are being taken to make up for the delay in the negotiations, which were expected to be completed by July. After the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of buying 36 Rafale fighter jets in April during his Paris visit, the Defence ministry had constituted a committee headed by Air Marshal SBP Sinha to hold negotiations with the French team.
Sources have indicated that the eventual cost would have come to about 2-3 per cent per cent more as it will be a government-to-government deal, as in the case of all such contracts.
Depleting combat strength of the Indian Air Force has been a cause of concern, as it down to 34 fighter squadrons against 42 of its authorised strength, based on certain projections in the next couple of years. IAF is getting four squadrons of Su-30 and subsequently indigenously built Light Combat aircraft Tejas is expected to fill the IAF’s critical requirement, but Tejas still has a long way to go.
As per an estimaton, the IAF plans to retire four squadrons of MiG-21M, five squadrons of MiG-27M and one squadron of MiG-21 bison aircraft in 2017, losing 10 squadrons in a single year, severely shrinking its increasingly vintage fighter aircraft fleet.