The training of Indian pilots and maintenance personnel in preparation for delivery of Rafale fighters is in progress in France, Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier told AIN in describing progress with the Indian air force contract for 36 Rafale fighters. He also commented on the latest Indian request for information (RFI) for more new fighters while visiting India as head of a delegation from the French Aerospace Industries Association (French acronym: GIFAS). However, Trappier made only passing reference to the financial and legal troubles that have recently beset the Reliance Group, Dassault’s partner in India for the Rafale contract.
In addition to the training in France, India is preparing a hangar at the Reliance Defence facility at Nagpur, where parts for the Rafale are being made, with deliveries to start this year. Dassault Aviation has started looking for more offset partners. Major subcontractors to the French manufacturer that have already tied up with Indian companies include engine maker Safran and Dassault Systèmes, providing 3D modeling and product lifecycle management (PLM) software. Thales announced last year it would develop Indian capabilities to integrate and maintain the radar and electronic warfare sensors at the Nagpur facility along with an Indian supply chain for manufacturing microwave technologies and high performance airborne electronics.
Currently, the Reliance Group's flagship company, Reliance Communications, is embroiled in court cases brought by minority shareholders, and stemming from its inability to repay lenders. The group has debts of $18 billion. A senior official at the Indian MoD has questioned the status of Reliance Defence, since the MoD’s Defense Procurement Policy is very strict on the credit rating of vendors. However, a Reliance official at the Nagpur facility told AIN: “The legal case has nothing to do with Reliance Defence, which is a part of [a separate] subsidiary, Reliance Infrastructure.”
Trappier said that Dassault is busy responding to the recently released RFI for 110 more fighters. The request cites 75 percent of these as single-seaters and the remainder as two-seaters. A maximum of 15 percent of the aircraft would be delivered in a flyaway state, with the remainder to be made in India by a Strategic Partner/Indian Production Agency. The current RFI dropped an earlier stipulation that the new fighters be single-engine.
But the Dassault chief declined to confirm that Reliance would be the partner in bidding for the 110 fighters. “There is a process of the RFI, and we will see at the time of the Request for Proposal…there is nothing as of now,” he said. “We need a variety of other suppliers [and] we are ready to transfer technology, because my government supports this and our own commitment to India,” he added.
Trappier also noted that the Indian Navy requirement for 57 carrier-capable fighters would be best met by the Rafale naval variant. However, the seaborne Rafale currently used by the French is built for CATOBAR operations (catapult assisted takeoff but arrested recovery). The Indian Navy's current aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and the forthcoming Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-1 are designed for STOBAR operations (short takeoff but arrested recovery).