One sticking point in the ongoing government-to-government negotiations between India and France over the procurement of 36 Rafales has reportedly
been identified. The Indian Air Force wants to modify the fighters to carry the indigenous Astra
air-to-air missile, with the French refusing to do so; citing the associated cost increases with the required recertification such a move would entail. These contract negotiations have been playing out since the Indian Prime Minister announced the acquisition in April
. The French government has lowered the per-unit cost of the deal, dropping this by 25% in May
. They are offering French missiles instead of the Astra, likely manufactured by European missile house MBDA. The Indian Air Force also wants to integrate
an Israeli-manufactured helmet display system, something which the French are unlikely to allow.
Additionally, French negotiators have reportedly
rejected Indian proposals for a 50% offset arrangement in the Rafale
contract negotiations. The French government has responded by offering to manufacture aircraft in India through future contracts, under the 'Make in India' procurement framework. Indian insistence on an offset will drive up the price of the 36 Rafales, which are currently on offer for the same price being paid by the French Air Force, following the aforementioned price drop in May
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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