Almost a decade after then Defence Minister A K Antony approved the Request For Proposal to buy 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft for the Indian Air Force, India today formally inked a much watered down pact with France for the supply of 36 Dassault Rafale aircraft. Apart from the aircraft, the US $ 8.7 billion (approx Rs 58,000 crore) deal includes weapons, spares, support and maintainance, and customised tweaks as demanded by the IAF, like the integration of Israeli helmet mounted displays.
The original plan to buy 126 aircraft was scrapped following heated disputes between Paris and New Delhi over rising costs and France’s refusal to accept sole responsibility for delays and other issues, given that HAL was supposed to co-produce the aircraft with Dassault. In April 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would buy 36 aircraft in a government to government deal. The fi rst plane will be delivered within three and half years, and the entire lot in fi ve years. According to the contract, Dassault has to ensure that at least 27 aircraft (or 75 per cent of the fl eet) are operationally available at any given time. The high-end twin engine aircraft, with a state of the art electronic scanning radar, will certainly add to the IAF’s capabilities. Add to that the new-age Meteor Beyond Visual Range missile, which can hit targets over 150 km away, and you have an aircraft which does not necessarily even have to enter enemy airspace before launching an attack. More importantly, the aircraft is capable of fi ring nuclear missiles, dramatically increasing India’s nuclear strike capabilities. The induction of these aircraft will be a shot in the arm for the IAF, grappling with a ageing fl eet and far less than the sanctioned number of squadrons. Whether India will order another lot from Dassault, or relaunch the tender, will depend on how fast we can induct the indigenous Tejas, which is still facing several teething issues.