NEW DELHI --- After selling 36 Rafale fighter jets to India for $8.7 billion (Rs 58,000 crore) last year, the French government is now pushing for a project to manufacture warplanes in India to give a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to encourage local manufacturing under ‘Make In India’.
And to put Paris’s case strongly, its new defence minister Florence Parly is visiting New Delhi and will be meeting her Indian counterpart.
According to South Block officials, Parly will be landing in India with a high-level delegation on October 26 and will hold a series of meetings with Indian officials on issues related to defence cooperation between the two nations. “Though the visit is aimed towards strengthening defence cooperation, offering a production line in India for Rafale jets will surely be on the cards,” an official said.
Parly and Nirmala Sitharaman are the only two women to head the defence ministries of nuclear-armed nations. Parly will also meet Indian Air Force officials for understanding the force’s requirement better. On October 28, she will travel to Nagpur to launch a production facility of Dassault Aviation, which has tied up with Reliance Defence for offset of over Rs 20,000 crore. Dassault Aviation had signed a contract worth $11 billion to supply 126 Rafale aircraft, and eventually won an order for only 36 planes in 2016.
India had initially agreed to buy all the 126 jets under a long-delayed deal, even mandating Dassault to build some of them locally. But the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender, issued by the UPA government, was cancelled by the incumbent NDA government. But now IAF is desperate to increase its combat strength.
The IAF is operating with 32 fighter squadrons, and is on the verge of losing out more aircraft as the MiG 21 and MiG 27 fleet are ageing. The IAF will achieve its sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons only by 2032, and will have 83 indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, 36 Rafale and 36 additional Sukhoi fighter jets by end of 2019.
Though the IAF was keen on a follow-up order of 36 additional Rafales, it is settling for lighter single-engine warplanes. For this, the IAF will start the process this month to acquire a fleet of such fighter jets which are expected to significantly enhance its overall strike capability.