by Pradip R Sagar

NEW DELHI: After selling 36 Rafale fighter jets to India, French government is now pushing for a project to manufacture warplanes here in Indian soil to give a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push to encourage local manufacturing under ‘Make In India’. And to put Paris’s case strongly, its newly appointed defence minister Florance Parley is visiting New Delhi and will be meeting her Indian counterpart.

According to south block officials, Parly will be landing India with high level delegation on October 26 and on next day she is scheduled to hold series of meetings with Indian officials on issues related to defence cooperation between the two nation.

“Though the visit is aimed towards further strengthening defence cooperation between the two nations, but offering production line in India for Rafale jets is surely will be on cards,” said an official.

Incidentally, Florence Parly of France and Nirmala Sithraman are the only two women to head the Defence Ministry of nuclear-armed nations. Parly will not hold delegation level talks with defence ministry officials, responsible for acquisitions, she will also hold talks with Indian Air Force for better understanding of the force’s requirement. On October 28, she will travel to Nagpur to launch a production facility of Dassault aviation in Nagpur, which has tied with Reliance Defence for offset of over Rs. 20,000 crore.

Dassault Avaition, manufactures of Rafale jets had signed contract worth $11 billion to supply 126 Rafale aircraft and eventually won an order for only 36 planes last year. India had initially agreed to buy all the 126 jets under a long-delayed deal, even mandating Dassault to build some of them locally. But the 126 Medium multi role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender, issued by the Congress led UPA government was cancelled by the Modi government. But now, IAF is desperate to increase its combat strength- -the key concern, which have been raised by the force on many occasions.

IAF at present operating with 32 squadrons and on the verge of losing out more squadrons as MiG 21 and MiG 27 fleeting is ageing and the Air Force would achieve its sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons by 2032. IAF will have 83 indigenous Light Combat Aircaft Tejas, 36 Rafale and 36 additional Sukhoi fighter jets by end of 2019.

Though, IAF was keen on a follow-on order of 36 additional Rafales to bridge the gap of it depleting combat fleet, but, they are now settling for lighter single engine warplanes. For this, the IAF is will start the process this month to acquire a fleet of single engine fighter jets which are expected to significantly enhance its overall strike capability. But, IAF has already maintained that requirement of twin engine is very much there.

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, on the occasion of IAF Raising day has made it clear that there is absolutely a need for twin-engine fighter jets. And Rafaje is a twin engine jet.

Besides other features that make the Rafale a strategic weapon in the hands of the IAF is the Beyond Visual Range Meteor air-to-air missile with a range in excess of 150 KM. Its integration on the Rafale jets will mean the IAF can hit targets inside both Pakistan and across the northern and eastern borders while still staying within India's own territorial boundary.

Pakistan currently has only a BVR with 80 km range. During the Kargil war, India used a BVR of 50 km while Pakistan had none. With Meteor, the balance of power in the air space has again tilted in India's favour. Scalp, a long-range air-to-ground cruise missile with a range in excess of 300 km also gives the IAF an edge over its adversaries.