France's Rafales may receive
terrain-following autopilot capabilities, with a comparable system currently fitted
to two-seat models of the Rafale
In a twist to the Indian Rafale deal
, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Friday
that the country will buy 36 models of the fighter outright, with these in a ready-to-fly condition. The contract doubles the number of planned aircraft to be procured from the original tender. How this new contract - a reflection of increasing pressure from the Indian Air Force - will impact the ongoing negotiations with Dassault is uncertain
, with the deal potentially requiring renegotiation. This deal, driven by operational necessities, is however being interpreted as a setback
for Modi's "Make in India" campaign, with the original deal seeing 18 ready-made Rafales to be combined with 108 more produced in India; this announcement is likely to reduce the future workload for Indian aerospace manufacturers, although it may increase the available lead time during which a local manufacturer could be brought up to production competence.
Will Dassault’s fighter become a fashionably late fighter platform that builds on its parent company’s past successes – or just “the late Rafale”? It all began as a 1985 break-away from the multinational consortium that went on to create EADS’ Eurofighter. The French needed a lighter aircraft that was suitable for carrier use, and were reportedly unwilling to cede design authority over the project. As is so often true of French defense procurement policy, the choice came down to paying additional costs for full independence and exact needs, or losing key industrial capabilities by partnering or buying abroad. France has generally opted for expensive but independent defense choices, and the Rafale was no exception.
Those costs, and associated delays triggered by the end of the Cold War and reduced funding, proved to be very costly indeed. Unlike previous French fighters, which relied on exports to lower their costs and keep production lines humming, the Rafale has yet to secure a single export contract – in part because initial versions were hampered by impaired capabilities in key roles. The Rafale may, at last, be ready to be what its vendors say: a true omnirole aircraft, ready for prime time on the global export stage. The question is whether it’s too late. Rivals like EADS’ Eurofighter, Russia’s Su-27/30 family, and the American “teen series” of F-15/16/18 variants are all well established. Meanwhile, Saab’s versatile and cheaper JAS-39 Gripen remains a stubborn foe in key export competitions, and the multinational F-35 juggernaut is bearing down on it.
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