India on Friday signed a Euro 7.87 billion (about Rs 59,000 crore) deal with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets that will meet the Indian Air Force’s critical operational requirement for a multi-role combat aircraft and enhance its strategic reach, especially in context of arch rival Pakistan.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the inter-government agreement for purchase of the fighter jets in fly-away condition that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The deal for fighter jets, which are equipped with latest missiles and weapon systems, was preceded by tough negotiations over the price and will cost India about 7.87 billion euros.
The deal also includes obligations under which the French industrial suppliers will discharge offsets for 50 percent of the value of the procurement.
Soon after the deal was signed, Parrikar said in a tweet: “Will significantly improve India’s strike and defence capabilities.”
The tough price negotiations led to a delay in the finalisation of the deal, which covers delivery of 36 planes, spares and weapons. The first fighter plane agreement in about two decades was inked almost 16 months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to buy the jets during his visit to France in April last year.
The fighter plane will be equipped with Meteor, a beyond-visual range air-to-air missile expected to considerably advance IAF’s capability in aerial combat. Sources said the missile has a range in excess of 150 km and is of much higher capability than the 80 km range of such weaponry with Pakistan.
Sources said tht IAF has authorisation for 42 squardons of fighter aircraft but its present strength is less than that.
Rafale is a multi-role fighter aircraft capable of undertaking all types of missions with a capability to simultaneously perform both air defence and ground attack roles in a single mission. It will have features like advanced electronically scanned array radar, mid-air refuelling and advanced electronic warfare equipment.
The Rafale fighter jet would be delivered within the next 36 to 67 months in fly-away condition along with weapons, training simulator, associated equipment and Performance Based Logistics(PBL) support. Sources said that the schedule is better than the delivery schedule proposed earlier by the French side.
India will purchase 28 single-seater Rafale fighter jets while eight jets will be two-seaters.
The price of aircraft alone is about 91 million euros each for a single seater and about 94 million Euros for a two seater aircraft.
The sources said the jets would arrive in India in batches, with the first two coming in the next few months.
India had decided to ink the deal for 126 Rafale jets in 2012 during the previous United Progressive Alliance government. The deal was estimated to cost $10.2 billion and the plan was to acquire 18 aircraft in fly-away condition and manufacturing the rest in India.
However, during Modi’s visit to France in April last year, India conveyed that it would like to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible in view of the IAF’s critical operational necessity for the multi-role combat aircraft.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with France in January this year for the purchase of 36 Rafale.
Sources said the version of Rafale aircraft supplied to India will have better operational capabilities than the Rafale being operated by other air forces in terms of better radar, better detection and survival features and will have capabilities for operations from higher altitude airfields.
The maintenance support for 36 Rafale will be provided through Performance based logistics which also includes advanced training of three IAF pilots, one engineer and six technicians by the French Air Force.
The sources said the 36 Rafale procurement supports the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government through offsets.
Thales, a technology firm and a member of Rafale team alongside Dassault aviation, welcomed the signing of the agreement. It said in a release that the contract will create hundreds of jobs on Thales manufacturing sites.