WITH INDIA and France expected to announce the Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) for Rafale fighter jets in the next few days, the clinching factor behind Delhi deciding to buy even only 36 French aircraft has become clearer. The long-delayed deal is being finalised because India has identified the French fighters for their ‘strategic’ role — to deliver nuclear weapons.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) currently has 32 fighter squadrons against an authorisation of 42, and many of them, particularly the MiGs, are reaching the end of their service in this decade. Thirty-six Rafales, to be inducted between 2019 and 2023, will make for only two squadrons. This still leaves a huge gap, to be filled by either the indigenous Tejas fighters, or another foreign fighter such as the Swedish Gripen or the American F-16, both of which have offered to ‘Make in India’.
During his visit to Paris last April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters in a government-to-government deal with France. This followed a decade-long process of trials and selection of Rafales for the 126 Medium Multi Range Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender, which could not be concluded. The MMRCA tender was formally withdrawn by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar later last year.
India and France underwent a series of negotiations over the price of the 36 fighters, and the two sides agreed to a final price of about Euro 7.87 billion a few weeks ago. Although all the fighters will be made in France, Rafale will invest 50 per cent of the value of the deal as offsets in India. The delivery of the first fighter aircraft is scheduled for 2019.