With national elections looming in India, speculation is growing that contracts for the long-delayed medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), as well as the multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), could soon be signed. However, the MMRCA pact might cover only the supply of 18 Dassault Rafale aircraft from the French production line, leaving further negotiations for the remaining 108 required to be concluded by the new government. India announced its choice of the Rafale in January 2012. But negotiations subsequently stalled over offsets, the transfer of technology and the role of Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).
Delays in procurement are taking a toll on military force levels as Indian Air Force (IAF) squadrons deplete. This has resulted in pressure on the Ministry of Defense to increase the pace for awarding pending contracts. A government code of conduct prevents any contracts being awarded within 45 days of an election. The national election is expected to be called by March, also the end of the financial year.
“If the contract is signed soon, it will be nothing but a paper deal that ensures commitment of the government. We can expect delays after the first 18 aircraft, since the remaining fighters will be built under license with transfer of technology. The government wants to ensure the contract is penned so that the [basic choice] cannot be questioned by subsequent governments,” said an official associated with the project. An official at the MoD noted that signature of the MMRCA contract would restore the confidence of international OEMs, which has been shaken by the recent scandal over the AW101 procurement.
Following lengthy discussions, HAL is thought to have now agreed with Dassault on the question of Tier 1 suppliers, including aerostructures.
An IAF official said that a new refueling tanker is a priority. A meeting between the Indian MoD and Airbus Defence and Space on the MRTT that was delayed last year following the death of the senior acquisition official has been scheduled for mid-January, AIN has learned from an informed source close to the program. Since the A330MRTT can also be used as a pure transporter for 300 troops, plus a cargo payload of up to 45 tons (99,000 pounds), or to accommodate up to 130 stretchers for medical evacuation, it will bring immediate benefits to the IAF. “This contract has no political overtones or baggage attached to it,” said the IAF official.