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IAF to opt for Sukhoi-30 if Rafale deal falls flat
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is coming up with a contingency plan to procure fighter jets to maintain its operational preparedness in case the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal worth over $15 billion to procure 126 Rafale jets does not go through.
The backup plan will see the IAF opting for 50 more Sukhoi-30 MKI jets to be bought off the shelf from Russia. The IAF has already inducted 100 SU-30s and will have 200 more jets in the next three to four years excluding the ones forming part of contingency project.
This development has come about as the MMRCA deal often termed as “mother of all deals” is stuttering due to various reasons, and officials are not able to give any timeline for its completion.
The Defence Ministry and French aviation giant Dassault, manufacturer of Rafale jets, are engaged in contract negotiations after Rafale was selected as the lowest bidder early last year.
However, Dassault recently raised doubts about the capability and role of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture 108 jets in India. As per the request for proposal (RFP) conditions, India will buy 18 jets off the shelf from the vendor and HAL will manufacture the remaining planes.
Dassault reportedly said it will supply the kits to the Indian public sector aircraft manufacturer and will not be responsible for the final
product. Given these reservations, the French company wants to sign a separate contract with HAL for planes to be integrated in India.
India has rejected Dassault’s conditions and maintained that the RFP clearly stipulates that the vendor will be responsible for all the 126 jets and the HAL is the lead integrator.
The Defence Ministry and Dassault are now engaged in talks to sort out this irritant. Besides this issue, the recent AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scandal has jolted the Government and any allegation of bribes or wrongdoing in the MMRCA contract may prove costly for the Congress in the run up to the general elections, sources said.
In this backdrop, the Defence Ministry is taking all precautions to avoid any slip-ups even as the deal is marred by delays as the RFP was issued way back in 2008. Defence Ministry maintains that given the magnitude of the contract, negotiations are “protracted” and claimed that there are no slippages and the process is on track.
Defence Minister A K Antony recently said even after the contract negotiations are over, the deal will have to go through six to seven stages of vetting before the Cabinet Committee on Security(CCS) headed by the Prime Minister and the Union Cabinet gives its approval.
Sources also said if the deal does not go through, the Government will not negotiate with the second lowest bidder Eurofighter (consortium of Germany, France, Italy and UK). Incidentally, reports indicated that Germany will ask the Indian political leadership to reconsider Eurofighter’s bid when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holds talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week in Berlin.
As regards the IAF preferring SU-30s to meet any contingency, sources said HAL is already manufacturing these jets under transfer of technology pact with Russia and has requisite expertise and facilities for maintenance of the sophisticated planes.
In 1996, India signed a $-1.46 billion contract with Russia to buy 40 SU-30s and a technology transfer agreement for licensed production of 140 fighters at HAL facility in Nasik. Later, the first generation SU-30s were upgraded to SU-30 MKIs with more advanced avionics and weapons systems.
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