After a wait of almost a decade, involving a multi-country and multi-aircraft competition, extensive negotiations, cancellations and re-work, the IAF (Indian Air Force) will get modern fighter aircraft with India & France FINALLY inking the deal for the Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters on Friday, September 23 2016.
The precursor to the Rafale deal was the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) competition to supply the IAF with 126 advanced multi-role combat aircraft. The RFP (Request for Proposal) for this deal was released in August 2007 to six bidding aircraft – Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, Mikoyan Mig-35 & SAAB Gripen NG. The competition involved extensive trials of the six competing aircraft in a variety of environmental conditions. After an extensive technical evaluation, the IAF announced in April 2011 that it had shortlisted two aircraft – Dassault Rafale & Eurofighter Typhoon. On 31 January 2012 it was announced that Dassault Rafale won the MMRCA competition due to its lower life-cycle cost. Thus began a phase of long and painful negotiations, which involved differences over cost escalations and guarantees by Dassault for aircraft license-built in India.
The negotiations continued for over two years with differences persisting between the two sides. Finally, in April 2015, Indian PM Narendra Modi announced that India’s intent to purchase 36 Rafale fighters in a fly-away condition directly from France in a government-to-government agreement. This effectively killed the MMRCA deal, with the Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar officially making an announcement to this effect. Even then, it took nearly 18 months of negotiations to officially ink the deal!
The Dassault Rafale will be a much needed boost to the IAF’s rapidly declining fighter aircraft strength. With multiple aircraft types like the Mig-21, Mig-27 and Jaguar slated for retirement in the coming years, there is a critical need for inducting modern fighter aircraft into the fleet. The Rafale will be a shot in the arm for the IAF, providing it with a much needed capability boost to tackle the challenges it faces from Pakistan & China.
Being an “omni-role” aircraft, the Rafale can be easily configured for air-air or air-ground missions. The deal includes the Thales RBE2 AA AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and weapons systems like the Meteor BVR air-air missile, which has a range of over 150km, and the SCALP air-ground cruise missile with a range of over 300km. This will allow the IAF to engage targets inside enemy territory without crossing its own borders.
The first Rafales will start arriving within 36 months of signing the contract i.e. in the year 2019 and the delivery will be completed within 66 months. The 36 Rafales constitute approx. two squadrons, and will clearly not be enough to plug the declining fighter strength in the IAF. What remains to be seen is whether there will be a follow-on order for more Rafales including possible local assembly/manufacturing or whether the IAF decides to go in for another type.