France may offer 36 more Rafale aircraft to India
Talks on proposed deal may be held when PM Modi & President Macron meet today.
The French side, sources said, is set to offer an immediate sale of two more squadrons, which means 36 additional Rafale jets, to the Indian Air Force that has been grappling with depleting combat force levels. PM Modi is slated to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday during which both sides will hold detailed deliberations on a range of subjects including key issues like defence and maritime cooperation.
While the 2016 deal for 36 Rafale jets was signed for €7.87 billion, sources said additional 36 aircraft would cost significantly lesser because payment for fixed costs covering India-specific enhancements, training equipment and infrastructure has already been made.
The two airbases that will house Rafales on order are capable of stationing additional jets without any changes, officials said, adding this would also reduce cost.
IAF Needs 42 Squadrons
The assessment is that France may quote less than €6 billion for supplying two more squadrons. Industry sources said Dassault could work out tight delivery schedules in a way that a Rafale could be rolled out for India every month over the next six years.
The delivery of the first Rafale jet for the Indian Air Force is likely to take place on September 19, with defence minister Rajnath Singh expected to travel to France for the handing over ceremony. According to the 2016 deal, 36 jets will be delivered to India over the next three years and will be armed with advanced weaponry including the long-range Meteor airto-air missile that will outgun all fighter jets in the neighbouring region.
The Rafale jets to be delivered will also include the SCALP air-to-ground missile that has a precise target range in excess of 300 km. This would enable India to target any terror camp located within Pakistan from within its own airspace.
Senior air force officers have told ET that while the Make in India project is a good plan to augment force levels in the future, the service requires at least two more squadrons of the Rafale urgently to make up for the legacy MiG fleets that are retiring over the next few years.
The Indian fighter squadron strength currently stands at 30 but is expected to dip rapidly over the next two years as the MiG 21 and 27 series of fighters are retired from service. The official requirement of the air force is a strength of 42 squadrons.
Sources said while an expedited sale of 36 additional jets is high on the French agenda, the two sides will also discuss the prospects of the fighter jet for an upcoming competition to provide 114 fighter jets to the air force under a ‘Make in India’ project.