Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron a French media outlet has reported that the country is mulling the sale of four upgraded Rafale Marines jets to India.

French news portal La Tribune reports that Rafale Marine could emerge as the winner with the Indian Navy conducting trials to choose a twin-engine aircraft for the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC).

France has already offered jets for India’s second aircraft carrier and more Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF) if there is a need. And the French side is already making efforts to integrate Indian manufacturers into the global supply chains which will help in India’s Make in India initiative too.

Officials said there was a real possibility that India, which has a contract for 36 omni-role fighters, could buy more Rafale jets in light of the French offer to bring 70 per cent of the assembly line including local vendor development. This would reduce the cost of subsequent acquisition of the fighter jets.

Chopper Deal On The Anvil

India and France in Jan 2021 had decided to intensify defence cooperation with Paris offering to shift 100 per cent assembly line for Panther medium utility helicopters as well as 70 per cent of the assembly line for Rafale fighters under “Make in India” rubric with full transfer of technology, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

In Jan 2021 France offered to make the advanced Panther choppers in India which works well with the government which has been looking to buy medium helicopters for the Indian Navy. The Airbus’ AS565 MBe is an all-weather, multi-role medium helicopter designed for operation from ship decks, offshore locations and land-based sites.

According to senior officials, India has decided to consider the French offer of six Airbus 330 multi-role transport tankers on lease while making it clear that French defence technologies shared with Indian military should not be given to its adversaries.

Pak Factor At Play

The French had informed India then that their relationship particularly in the defence sector has reached a new low with Pakistan after Imran Khan  in Oct 2020 attacked President Macron personally over a terrorist incident. France has accepted the Indian request that defence technologies shared with the Indian military should not be given to New Delhi’s adversaries. France’s relationship with Pakistan had reached a new low after then PM Imran Khan attacked President Macron.

It is understood that France will no longer either supply or upgrade French weapon platforms or ammunition with Pakistan. This includes repairs of Mirage III/V fighters as well as Augusta submarines. The same thumb rule will apply to Turkey too, whose authoritarian leader R Erdogan had gone out of his way to launch vitriolic attacks on President Macron.

Why Rafale Could Be A Preferred Choice For MRCA?

Operational Compatibility: Rafale is a successor of Mirage-2000 three squadrons of which are operated by IAF since mid 80s. Hence the operational/infrastructural issues will be minimal for IAF. This is an attractive proposition for the air force which has a high assortment of aircrafts in its arsenal writes Abhishek Thakur.

Naval Variant: Rafale has a naval variant as well. This is again helpful as the operational (logistics, spare parts etc) requirements get reduced by both IAF and Navy using the same aircraft.

Highly Effective Fighter: One factor that is not disputed is that Rafale is a highly effective multirole medium weight combat aircraft. It is combat proven too and fits the needs of IAF very well. Its AESA radar, weapons package, electronic warfare suite, super cruising ability and partial stealth, not to forget its N-capability, make it a truly leading fighter in the world.

But it has one burden around its neck- its high price.

The government has sanctioned about $15Bn for 114 aircrafts. The Rafale contract for 36 aircrafts signed in 2016 was $8.7Bn. (Of course, we understand that it included as one-time costs for India-specific customizations, weaponry, in ready-to-fly conditions).

So it is quite clear that unless Dassault puts forth a really strong offer, it will not be able to tilt the scales in its favour.