Keeping in mind the “critical operational necessity” for multi-role combat aircraft in the Indian Air Force, India on Friday asked France to supply 36 Rafale fighter jets in “fly-away” condition “as quickly as possible” — double the number proposed in the original tender.
The unusual request was a departure from the past with New Delhi approaching Paris directly this time, independent of the ongoing negotiations with Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived in Paris on Thursday, and French President Francois Hollande agreed to sign an “inter-governmental agreement” for the aircraft under terms “better than” those being currently negotiated with Dassault.
The original tender had proposed the purchase of 18 fighter jets in “fly-away” condition — aircraft ready for immediate flight — and 108 to be made operational by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under a transfer of technology clause.
After holding bilateral talks with Hollande at the historic Elysee Palace, Modi said, “I have spoken to him and requested for 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible under a government-to-government deal.”
India and France were locked in negotiations for three years over the purchase of 126 Rafale fighter jets valued at US$12bn but the talks had been bogged down over costs and Dassault’s reluctance to stand guarantee for the 108 planes to be made by the state-run HAL.
“The two leaders agreed to conclude an Inter-Governmental Agreement for supply of the aircraft on terms that would be better than conveyed by Dassault Aviation as part of a separate process underway; the delivery would be in time-frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF,” a joint statement by the two sides said.
“The aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by Indian Air Force, and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France,” it added.
The IAF, which is down to 34 operational squadrons from the stipulated 42, desperately needs the Rafale aircraft to bridge the operational gap between the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the frontline Sukhoi fighters.
New Delhi and Paris also moved towards setting up a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur by inking two pacts aimed at an early operationalisation of the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.
The first was a MoU between L&T and the French company Areva aimed at improving the financial viability of the project. “It will also enable transfer of technology and development of indigenous nuclear energy industry in India,” the agreement note said.
The second related to “pre-engineering agreements” between NPCIL and Areva, which aims to bring clarity on all technical aspects of the plant.
The Jaitapur project, where Areva is to set up six nuclear reactors with a total power generation capacity of about 10,000 MW has been stuck for long because of differences over the cost of electricity to be generated.
“The two leaders urged their atomic energy establishments to lay an ambitious foundation for the future of India-France civil nuclear cooperation, including a wide range of subjects, including in the area of civil nuclear liability,” the joint statement said.
The two countries also signed about 15 agreements covering various sectors, including space, tourism, culture, railways, sports, skill development, science and technology. Later, Modi and Hollande went for a boat ride on The Seine, which was labelled “naav pe charcha”.