April 16, 2009 2:15:03 am
The French Rafale twin-engine multi-role fighter has been knocked off a $10-billion contract for 126 combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force. One of six contenders,Rafale was officially rejected by the Ministry of Defence for what an official called the failure to meet qualitative requirements of the contract.
The IAF has been maintaining that all six contenders American F-18 and F-16,Eurofighter Typhoon,Russian MiG-35,Swedish Gripen NG and the Rafale for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract have met technical requirements.
But a senior official of the Ministry of Defence today said that Dassault Aviation’s Rafale was rejected at the technical evaluation stage for failing to meet minimum performance requirements detailed in the tender document. Flight trials for the remaining five fighters are expected to commence within three months,the official said.
They (Rafale) did not meet the requirements and will not proceed to the next stage. We hope to begin trials within three months with the others that have qualified, the official said.
The French fighter,always an underdog in the competition for what is considered the largest international defence contract,was aggressively pushed by the French government. Former President Jacques Chirac and successor Nicolas Sarkozy spoke about the fighter in their interactions with India.
Incidentally,a separate contract,valued at close to $2 billion,for the upgrade of the IAF Mirage fighter fleet has also been stuck for several months with India and France still in commercial negotiations. While the IAF requires an urgent upgrade,the price being quoted by France for the upgrade of over 50 fighters has been a dampener.
The early elimination of the Rafale is also being attributed by insiders to its high cost and the failure to respond to technical queries. While commercial bids were to be opened at a later stage,the cost of the fighter was considerably more than most competitors. Insiders say the Ministry was also not very happy with the replies it received on technical queries sent after the French company submitted its technical bid.
Rafale was also missing from the biennial Aero India military aircraft exposition in Bangalore while all its competitors were showcasing their fighters.
The long process for purchasing 126 fighters to boost dipping force levels of the IAF its fighter strength is at an all-time low of 32 squadrons against an official level of 39.5 and a desired level of 42 squadrons will now proceed to the next stage of flight trials where aircraft will be tested over different terrain,different weather conditions. Trials are expected to take place in Bangalore,Jaisalmer and Leh.
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