The Rafale fighter jet, manufactured by the French company Dassault Aviation, has won India’s contract worth $10.4 billion, The Indian Air Force will buy 126 aircraft over the next ten years. In 2007, India invited proposals from six contenders, Russia’s MiG- 35,Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Falcon, Boeing’s F-18/A Hornet, the Swedish Saab Gripen, Euro-Fighter Typhoon and Rafale. The formal contract for the so-called Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) with Dassault will be signed after April 1, the beginning of India’s next financial year, giving life to an aircraft platform that might have otherwise been discontinued, according to a December 2011 quote by French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet
India will be the first overseas customer for the twin-engine delta-wing multi-role jet aircraft which is being produced both for land-based use with the French Air Force and for carrier-based operations with the French Navy. In fact, French sailors landed the Rafale on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2008 as part of Operation Brimstone.
The American contenders, Boeing and Lockheed Martin were eliminated from the competition in April last year. Both companies have other substantial wins in India for transport aircraft (Hercules C130J and C-17 Globemaster) and reconnaissance airplanes (P8i Poseidon, see separate story) .
The Rafale is typically outfitted with the Thales electronically scanned multi-mode radar. Air Liquide supplies an on-board oxygen generating system. Ejection seats are made by British company Martin-Baker (which has operations in France) and the engines are likely to be SNECMA M88-2 turbofans made by the Safran group. Most of the Tier 1 suppliers for this aircraft are French companies.
The contract requires delivery of the first 18 aircraft assembled in France. India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. will build the remaining 108 through technology transfers. A 50 percent offset requirement ensures that at least $5 billion will be spent by Dassault in India and will open up a host of opportunities for Indian companies to expand their defense production capabilities. When the deal is fully delivered, India will be largest operator of the Rafale, since France’s own order is for about 80 airplanes. It is possible that the order could be expanded beyond 126 units to as many as 200 but this is not likely to happen for several years.
What this means
India’s largest single order is a result of a systematic and transparent process under its Defense Procurement Procedure. This is sharply different from the scandal-clad acquisitions of the past, such as the Bofors howitzer order. Defense Minister AK Antony, know for his upright approach and the men in uniform who architected the DPP before Antony took control should bear credit for the victory of process over personality.