Contrary to some previous indications, India is considering an additional 36 Dassault Rafales, a senior Ministry of Defence official said. The contract is likely to be signed in 2019 with deliveries to start by 2022, when the existing $8.8 billion order for 36 Rafales is completed, AIN has learned from sources close to the long-running procurement process. The two orders would add five squadrons of new fourth-generation fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
What seems to have been disjointed planning for future fighters in India is now becoming clearer. India has recently been exploring again the local production of a foreign fighter with OEMs under its "Make in India" policy, this time a single-engine design. But that does not preclude buying more twin-engine Rafales, nor their production in India, it seems. Late last year, Dassault chief executive Eric Trappier told the French newspaper Sud Ouest that “we have the will and the strategy to establish ourselves in India.” There is a 50-percent offset stipulation in the first contract for 36 Rafales, that Dassault will partly fulfill by establishing a parts production and support facility with its local partner, the Reliance Group. “This would be [further] developed if other contracts were signed,” Trappier said. In the protracted and eventually abandoned negotiations for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirement, only 18 Rafales would have been produced in France, with the other 108 assembled in India.
The Indian Navy is also likely to view with favor the carrier-capable Rafale-M on grounds of commonality, having recently rejected the naval version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) because of excess weight and other factors.
On January 3, Indian defense minister Manohar Parrikar said that the single-engine fighter would be a government-to-government project, that would include some aircraft in fly-away condition and the rest produced in India. The company that offers the best technology deal and financial terms will get the contract, he said. “During the current year, the decision, tender and closure should tentatively be over," he added.
The Saab Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16 are both in the fray, both OEMs having indicated an interest in transferring their entire manufacturing and assembly lines to India. The chosen fighter would supplement the LCA Mk1, 83 of which have been ordered by the IAF. But according to a retired IAF official, “The LCA has no deterrent capability. It is more of a matter of optics."
Saab has offered to provide help with an improved LCA Mk II. This could be fitted with the same GE F414 engine that powers the Gripen E/F, the version that Saab has confirmed it would offer to India. The LCA Mk1 has a GE 404 engine, which does not provide enough power. And while any Gripen E/Fs sold to the IAF would carry the Leonardo (ex-Selex) AESA radar as standard, Saab is separately offering for the LCA, the new radar technology that it is developing at Gothenberg.
“India’s military has too many aircraft types that do not make maintenance and spares cost effective. To overcome this, the MoD has formed a committee to explore synergies in procurement,” Kabir Bogra, associate partner at Delhi-based law firm Khaitan & Co. told AIN.