New Delhi: A team headed by French defence ministry officials met their Indian counterparts last week to initiate discussions on the Rafale-M fighter aircraft deal, following an announcement by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) last month. It was the first meeting after the DAC approval. Teams from both countries are in talks to finalise the details of the project, costing over Rs 50,000 crore.
According to sources, the French team was headed by an official who is in charge of Asia in their Directorate General of Armament while the Indian team included personnel from the Navy, which will be the user. In the negotiations with France, the Indian Navy would be represented by Assistant Chief of Naval Staff Rear Admiral Janak Bevli.
Both sides will have to form a contract negotiating team in a similar way as they had done during the Indian Air Force deal in 2016. The Indian side also has to send a letter of request or a request for proposal to the French government for the deal for which the cut-off date would be eight weeks after the approval by the DAC, sources said.
Prior to the approval given by the defence ministry, India and France have held multiple meetings. The French side has stated that if required, it can increase the rate of production to 30 aircraft per year from the existing 18 per year. The French have received multiple orders from different countries after India first selected it for its requirement for 126 Multirole combat aircraft deal where all participants were made to go through a rigorous trial procedure.
The Rafale Marine jets marks the second purchase of fighter jets from Dassault Aviation by India in recent years and will be used by the Indian Navy for defence operations from its aircraft carriers. The jets will be deployed on the INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, replacing the currently used MiG-29. India would be requesting the integration of its indigenous missiles including the Astra air-to-air missile as part of the package from France. The configuration of the aircraft is expected to be similar to what has been provided to the Indian Air Force.
Grappling with a shortage of aircraft and submarines, the Indian Navy had previously emphasised the urgency of fulfilling its requirements. The Defence Acquisition Council approval to acquire 26 Rafale-M fighter aircraft for the Indian Navy, includes 22 single-seated Rafale marine aircraft and four twin-seater trainer versions.