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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

French defence minister to visit India amid deadlock in project for 126 Rafale fighters........

NEW DELHI: With the almost $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project for 126 Rafale fighters stuck in the final stages, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will be holding talks with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar next week in a bid to resolve the imbroglio. 

As was first reported by TOI, 90% of the draft contract for the complex MMRCA project has been finalized, under which the first 18 jets are to be delivered to IAF within 36-48 months of the deal being inked. The rest 108, in turn, will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) with transfer of technology over the next seven years thereafter. 

But the major bone of contention is French aviation major Dassault's continuing reluctance to accept responsibility for the 108 fighters to be built by HAL as far as liquidity damages and timelines for production are concerned. 

This has stalled the finalization of the project for several months now. Drian, on his part, is slated to hold delegation-level talks with Parrikar on December 1 during his two-day visit to India. "The MMRCA will obviously figure in the talks," said an official. 

It was in January 2012 that India had selected Dassault's Rafale fighter over its five other rivals for the MMRCA project after an extensive technical and commercial evaluation. But the final negotiations have proceeded at a glacial pace since then, rekindling the hope of Eurofighter Typhoon, which is backed by the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. 

British defence secretary Michael Fallon, in fact, recently told TOI that the Eurofighter was fully ready to step in to fulfil India's requirements if negotiations for the Rafale failed. 

But, as reported earlier, there can be "no comebacks" in the ongoing MMRCA project as per the Indian defence procurement policy and CVC guidelines. India can either ink the deal for the Rafales or scrap the entire MMRCA selection process undertaken since August 2007. 

With IAF down to 34 fighter squadrons, when at least 44 are required, IAF has identified the MMRCA project as its "topmost priority" for the Modi government. The indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, which is yet to receive its final operational clearance despite being in the making for 30 years, simply cannot fulfill the MMRCA's role. 

A MMRCA, for instance, will have three times the range and weapon-load carrying capacity as compared to the Tejas, which will be critical to take on China if required. India is also pushing Russia, ahead of President Vladimir Putin's visit here early next month, to come back with a plan to substantially reduce the delivery timeframe for the stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) if it wants to stitch-up the futuristic project by next year. Vijay Karnataka, 15 years of trust, of truth, of winning, of excitement and of celebration.