More Turbulence Likely for Air Force's Rafale Deal - The New Indian Express

More Turbulence Likely for Air Force's Rafale Deal

Published: 11th February 2014 07:56 AM

Last Updated: 11th February 2014 07:56 AM

There are fresh signs of trouble for the country’s ‘mother of all deals’ to buy 126 French Rafale combat planes.

After Defence Minister A K Antony told a DefExpo press conference last week that there were complaints regarding the life cycle cost of the 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) that the IAF is buying, he told Parliament on Monday that all of the MiG-21 and MiG-27 combat planes would be replaced by the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

Antony told the Lok Sabha in written replies to questions that there were 14 combat squadrons of the IAF that use the two Russian-origin single-engine planes and these would be phased out over the next few years. These “will be replaced by the LCA”. Antony’s statement is a major setback for the MMRCA project for which Rafale has been chosen as the lowest bidding aircraft two years ago and the contract, said to be worth Rs 1 lakh crore, is yet to be signed.

The IAF had originally planned to equip the squadrons that fly the MiG-21s and MiG-27s with the plane chosen under the MMRCA procurment, which now obviously is the Rafale. Though Antony said the Rafale procurement is in the pipeline and that there was no rethink on it now, the trouble with its life-cycle cost calculation is likely to delay the signing of the contract, as he has already indicated that it was not possible within this fiscal. As the UPA’s return to power at the Centre is not certain and hence, the new government may take a while to study the Rafale purchase before taking a decision.

However, as things stand today, the LCA has obtained its initial operational clearance in December 2013 and is readying to get its final operational clearance by the end of 2014.

Till now, the MoD only ordered two squadrons comprising 20 LCAs each -- one in the LCA in IOC configuration and another in FOC configuration -- making it a total of 40.

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