NEW DELHI (Agencies): India has submitted a Letter of Request (LoR) to France, expressing its desire to purchase Dassault Aviation’s Rafale Marine for the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers, INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya. While the contract for 26 Rafale-Ms is progressing, attention is also turning to an unfinished order for 114 Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force.
The LoR serves as a tender document, outlining India’s specifications and requirements for the Rafale Marine aircraft. The signing of the contract for these jets is expected in 2024 after France evaluates the LoR and responds with a Letter of Acceptance (LoA), followed by cost negotiations.
Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jets have gained global demand, particularly after delivering 36 Rafales to the Indian Air Force through a government-to-government contract. Recently, French media reported that Rafale secured a deal to supply 54 jets to Saudi Arabia, as the Eurofighter Typhoon faced challenges in the bidding process due to a German veto.
The Indian Air Force is currently in the process of selecting a multi-role fighter aircraft supplier as part of a significant deal often referred to as the “mother of all deals.” This tender, which aims to provide 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA), includes competitors like Boeing’s F/A-18 and F-15EX, Lockheed Martin’s F-21, SAAB’s Gripen, and others. Rafale had previously won a bid in 2013 for 126 jets, known as the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program. However, in 2015, the Indian Prime Minister canceled the tender and opted to purchase 36 Rafale jets off-the-shelf in an approximately $8-billion deal. Dassault Aviation sees the current MRFA contract as a chance to address the “unfinished” business.
The Indian Air Force has formulated Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQRs) and initiated discussions with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to seek commitments for indigenous content and ‘Make in India’ provisions. The goal is to integrate domestically developed air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons into the MRFA being manufactured in India.
The urgency of the 114 MRFA procurement is vital to maintain India’s combat capabilities. While the IAF is operating Rafale aircraft, there is no guarantee that it will secure the deal, given the fresh ASQRs in place. The ‘Make in India’ policy could be a significant factor in the final decision.
Air Marshal (Retd) M. Matheswaran, who oversaw the MMRCA tender for the IAF before retirement, suggests that the decision will hinge on ‘Make in India’ and the ASQR formulation, which plays a pivotal role in defense acquisitions. The IAF’s effort to convince the government of the need for a large number of imported aircraft and the potential readiness of the indigenous Tejas Mk-2 fighter may also influence the decision.
The Indian Air Force has been pursuing the ‘Make in India’ policy and is looking to order 90 more Light Combat Aircraft Mk1. The government’s approval for the MRFA deal is pending, and while it’s seen as crucial for maintaining India’s defense capabilities, the decision-making process is ongoing.