India will finally ink the deal for direct acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France on Friday , in what will be an urgently-needed booster dose for the country's dwindling air combat power. IAF, after all, is down to just 33 fighter squadrons when at least 42 are required for dissuasive deterrence against China and Pakistan.
The decks have been cleared for the inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with France after the requisite clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by PM Narendra Modi.The IGA and associated commercial protocols will be inked on Friday in the presence of defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is slated to arrive on Thursday night.
The overall cost of the 36 twin-engine Rafales, along with their weapon packages, associated supplies and logistics, is pegged at around 7.8 million euros (over Rs.59,000 crore).
The first omni-role Rafale, also capable of delivering nuclear weapons, will touch down in India within three years. “All 36 jets will be delivered in 66 months. India will pay around 15% (around Rs.9,000 crore) as the first instalment,“ said a source.
The inking of the IGA comes 20 months after the proposed government-to-government deal was announced during the Modi-Hollande summit in Paris in April 2015.But there are still concerns about the exorbitant costs involved, as also France's refusal to give sovereign guarantee for the deal.
If the overall cost is taken into account, each Rafale will come for around Rs.1,640 crore. Though different fighters cannot be compared since they have their own roles and capabilities, India can buy two to three Russian heavyweight Sukhoi-30MKIs or five to six indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft for every Rafale. But it's also true that while a Tejas has a limited range of 400 km and weapon load carrying capability of 2.5 tonnes, a Rafale can go up to 1,650 km with a 9.3-tonne load.
Parrikar has repeatedly stressed that India has undertaken some real hard-nosed bargaining to bring down the overall cost of the deal. “The French government will also provide a comfort letter in place of the guarantee,“ the source said.
The NDA government had cited IAF's “critical operational necessity“ as well as the need to cut time and costs to go in for direct acquisition of 36 Rafales last year after scrapping the original but deadlocked $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 fighters.Though the new deal does not have a `Make in India' component, as was the case in the MMRCA project, it does have the 50% offsets clause to ensure France will have to plough half of the actual contract value back into India.