Negotiations to build Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force won’t be complete for at least nine months, following news that the state-owned company tapped to build the jets in India has missed a deadline for filing its license production evaluation report.
Sources in the Indian Defence Ministry said Defence Minister A.K. Antony had directed the bureaucrats to finalize the contract to build Rafales within the next three months, but it cannot be done because state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) has yet to submit the license production plan, delaying negotiations by another six months.
India on Jan. 31 declared the Dassault Rafale the preferred bidder over the Eurofighter Typhoon, setting the French company up for a deal involving 126 aircraft and prompting soul-searching among the Eurofighter nations.
The Ministry of Defence last week also asked HAL to focus on building airframes, engines, and system and weapons integration of Rafale aircraft rather than on meeting its portion of the $5.5 billion offset requirements as part of the deal.
Under the new directive, HAL has been asked to submit the detailed license production plan within the next four weeks, the sources said. HAL officials privately acknowledge they are late in submitting the plan for completing financial and manufacturing tasks.
Meanwhile, Rafale has come closer to clinching the final selection in the program after India rejected accusations of manipulation in the selection of the French aircraft over Typhoon.
Antony ordered a probe into the allegations, which were leveled by M.V. Mysura Reddy, a member of Parliament, in February.
Antony, in his reply to Reddy two weeks ago, wrote, “The issues raised by you were examined by independent monitors who have concluded that the approach and methodology adopted by the Contract Negotiations Committee in the evaluation of the commercial proposals thus far, have been reasonable and appropriate and within the terms of the Request for Proposals and Defence Procurement Procedure, 2006.”
Rafale emerged as the preferred aircraft over the Typhoon based on life-cycle cost. MoD sources said Rafale had quoted nearly 15 percent lower than Typhoon, but the sources would not give a figure.
An executive with Eurofighter consortium member EADS said Eurofighter members will regard themselves out of the contest only after the deal is actually signed.
“A contract is finalized only when it is inked,” the executive said.
No executive from Dassault was available for comment.
India floated the request for proposals for the purchase of 126 fighter jets in August 2007, and it took nearly 4½ years to tap Rafale as the preferred vendor.
Besides Eurofighter and Rafale, the field included U.S.-made F-16s and F/A-18s, Swedish Gripens and Russian MiG-35s.
The Indian Air Force needs the fighters to shore up its dwindling fleet in the next five to seven years.
The Air Force should begin receiving the jets by 2015.
Under the terms of purchase, the first 18 aircraft will arrive in fly-away condition, while the remaining 108 will be manufactured under a technology transfer process.
Of the 108 aircraft to be license-produced in India, 74 will be single-seaters and the remaining 34 will be two-seaters. The first 18 aircraft will include 12 single-seaters and six two-seaters and will be equipped with all the weaponry required by the Indian Air Force.