NEW DELHI: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to clear the multi-billion dollar acquisition of 26 Rafale Marine fighters at its meeting on Wednesday.

Sources said that the Indian Navy has expressed its preference for the French fighter aircraft Rafale Marine over US’ F-18 Super Hornet. A proposal for the purchase of Rafale Marine has been sent to the CCS.

The Indian Air Force has already acquired 36 Rafale fighters. The commonality of the fleet and the resultant savings on training, repairs and maintenance have reportedly tilted the scale in favour of Dassault’s Rafale Marine. The two versions of the aircraft have over 80 per cent common features.

These aircraft will be deployed on India’s indigenously developed aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. According to sources, the Ministry of Defence has worked out a comprehensive contract, including Performance-based Logistics, which will ensure that the Original Equipment Manufacturer will be responsible for the overall maintenance of the aircraft and the supply of spares. Dassault will also build a maintenance facility for the Rafales on INS Vikrant, besides one in Goa. The company will train the naval aviation ground crew, besides training the pilots.

The fighters will be fully loaded with all maritime systems, including the maritime search radar that is capable of detecting submarines and warships in the sea. The price of the aircraft has not been revealed yet, but sources said it will be considerably lower than the IAF version. The government has decided to make the acquisition through an inter-governmental agreement rather than going in for an open tender.

Rafale-M has been locked in a tight fight with Boeing’s Super Hornet. Sources said the Indian Navy brass was mighty impressed by the Rafale’s capabilities during a joint exercise in India recently and asked the ministry of defence to close the deal with the French vendor.

The Indian Navy has been exploring options to replace its ageing MiG-29K as a short-term solution. India has been working on developing its own twin-engine deck-based fighters as a long-term solution to its need for carrier-based fighters. But since there are still some years before the aircraft is indigenously developed, the Navy has decided to go in for the acquisition to meet its requirement. The CCS includes the ministers for defence, home, finance, and external affairs and the national security adviser.