Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and visiting French Defence Minister Yves Le Drian held a “positive meeting” on the issue yesterday, the Indian Express reports. On that meeting, the defense ministers of France and India agreed to put the issue on the “fast track”.
While the French Rafale was declared as the lowest bidder and therefore the preferred fighter for the Indian Air Force MMRCA program, final approval of the program and contract signing have been delayed for two years. During that period the cost of the 126 fighters has also escalated (as expected) from six billion US$ originally set aside for the program, to more than $20 billion, what triggered speculations of scrapping the entire program.
Part of the disagreement between India and Dassault is based on license manufacturing of the Rafale by HAL. This issue has been a major concern for France, at the time when the Brazilian procurement of the aircraft was likely, but since the selection of the Gripen, India remains the only export customer for the French Rafale. (although there are indications that Qatar could be interested in buying Rafales, but the emirate does not pretend to be able to locally produce the aircraft).
Signs of improving prospects for concluding the MMRCA deal with France surfaces in October, when Indian Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha confirmed the contract is in the final stage of negotiations with all the agencies involved, including Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The final contract will be signed only after a clearance from Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). Raha expressed hope that the first squadron of Rafale jets would be ready within three to four years.