On 23 September India has finally signed a contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets with an option to buy 18 more in three years. This deal has been pending since 2012 when Rafale won a competition to be the new India medium fighter aircraft. Since then negotiations between France and India have been difficult. The two main sticking points during the final negotiations were Rafale’s rising price tag and whether India will be able to produce the fighter domestically. India insists on coproduction (some Rafale manufacturing done in India) and the French believed India overestimated its capabilities in handling some of the advanced technologies that go into Rafale. Of course India wants local manufacturers to handle that advanced tech and this is how you learn. But India also wants the French held responsible for the quality of items produced in India. In May it was announced that the remaining issues were resolved were not released, at least not yet. All that is known for sure is that terms were agreed to. But it took five more months of negotiations, mostly among Indian politicians, before there was an agreement to sign.
The final deal is valued to be worth about $8.85 billion, which India believes is about $1 billion less than France wanted. According to the Indian Ministry of defense the final includes the cost (about $4 billion) of building the aircraft plus support, equipment and infrastructure needed to keep aircraft availability at least 75 percent as well as weapons and the also cost of specific changes on the aircraft requested by the Indians like the Rafale integration with Israeli head-up displays. India will also be buying French weapons for Rafale like SCALP-EG/Storm Shadow (air launched cruise missile with range more than 250 kilometers) and METEOR (new generation air to air ramjet missile).
The first aircraft are to be delivered to India by September 2019 while the last ones will arrive by 2021. Another aspect of this deal is that the French will help Indians to develop a better (locally made) engine for Tejas (India light fighter) and allow them to produce some of Rafale components.
The Rafale design is a further evolution of the Mirage 2000 (from the same manufacturer) and has the Delta Wing configuration common with the Mirage designs but with canards (a small forewing is placed ahead of the main wing). Rafale has a maximum speed of 2,450 kilometers an hour and a range of over 3,700 kilometers. It is equipped with a 30mm cannon and can carry over nearly ten tons of weapons. It is a battle tested aircraft that has already seen service in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Syria and Iraq. No Rafales have been lost in combat but four were destroyed in accidents. There is a naval version of Rafale that has operated off French and American carriers.
With Rafale India will acquire modern aircraft which will not only replace some of the oldest MIG-21s but also be able to deliver nuclear weapons. This is important for India because until now they didn’t have any other nuclear strike capability besides underground silos. So the Rafale will become the main carrier of India nuclear weapons at least untill India introduce underwater launched ballistic missiles and adequate submarines sometime in the late 2020s. Moreover this deal will strengthen France-India strategic partnership which began in 1953 when India became Dassault Aviation’s first export customer. Furthermore there is the possibility that India might buy another 100 Rafales if the first ones perform well enough. This is a third Rafale sale after Egypt and Qatar. -- Przemysław Juraszek