When India signs the much-awaited Rafale deal with France on Friday, it will get a fighter with 14 India-specific enhancements and a modern air-to-air missile that restores its edge in aerial combat over Pakistan.
The French fighter will be fitted with the 150-km range Meteor missile in the weapons package that Indian Air Force (IAF) will get as part of the Euro 7.878-billion (around Rs 59,000 crore) deal for 36 Rafale fighters.
Meteor missile is a Beyond Visual Range missile and provides a no-escape zone three times greater than that of a conventionally powered missile in a head-on engagement. Experts say that the Meteor is five times as lethal as its conventional equivalent such as the American AMRAAM missile, and can hit farther than the missile that Pakistan air force has in its arsenal. The Rafales will also be fitted with MICA missiles, an Air to Land precision missile of more than 300 km range.
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The French will also guarantee performance-based logistics support which means that 75 per cent of the fleet will be airworthy at any given time.
The airworthiness of IAF’s fighter fleet has been an area of concern, with Sukhoi Su30 fighters struggling to maintain an airworthiness of 50 per cent.
India and France will ink the deal on Friday in the presence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean Yves Le Drian who arrives in Delhi on Thursday.
The deal, which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Paris in April last year, is for an aircraft first mooted by the IAF nearly 16 years ago.
It has been hanging fire since Modi’s announcement because of protracted price negotiations. The French had made an opening offer of Euro 12 billion in May last year when the negotiations began, according to sources. The French offer came down to Euro 8.6 billion on the midnight of 25-26 January, when French President François Hollande was in India as a chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations.
But the Indian side wanted the price to be reduced further. It was in May this year, sources said, that the two sides finally agreed at a price of Euro 7.878 bn. This includes the cost of 36 plain-vanilla fighters, the full weapons package, performance-based logistics, India-specific enhancements and associated supplies.
Comparing this with the price of 126 Rafale aircraft tendered during the UPA regime, sources said, wasn’t apt since the price was never finalised then. The tender for 126 MMRCA was scrapped by the defence ministry last year. According to sources, negotiations over the past 17 months have yielded more advantages to the Indian side over the MMRCA deal.
Along with the 36 French fighters, IAF will also get a better weapons package, and free training for nine personnel, including three pilots, estimated to be worth Euro 100 million.
The IAF will get an additional guarantee for an additional 60 hours for the trainer version of Rafale fighters, and a concession to keep the weapons storage in France for an additional six months without any charge. The French have also agreed to supply spares for a period of seven years at initial cost, instead of five years, with an option that a new deal will be negotiated for the next five years. he standard European escalation cost has also been brought down from 4% to 3.5%.