KOCHI: India's move to buy 26 Rafale-Marine Jet Fighter aircraft from France is at a critical juncture. A French team will reach New Delhi today for the next round of negotiations related to the half lakh crore rupees deal. The Rafale jets, which take off from aircraft carriers, will also benefit from the new aircraft carrier INS Vikrant being built in Kochi for the Navy. The Navy has decided to deploy the Rafale-Marine aircraft on INS Vikramaditya along with Vikrant.

The first Rafale deal that led to huge controversies was in 2016. These were the kind that took off from air bases. 39 Rafales were purchased for the Air Force at a cost of ₹59,000 crores. The defence department moved ahead with the second phase of the Rafale deal after the cases and allegations were settled. The Defense Acquisition Council, chaired by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, gave its in-principle approval ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to France on July 13 last year. France then issued a letter accepting India's request. This week's high-level discussion is a continuation of this.

The representatives of the French government, Dassault, the fighter aircraft manufacturer, and Thales, the weapon system integrator, are now coming to Delhi for negotiations. The decision in the negotiations will be considered by the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Security Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister. After approval, there will be a final government-level discussion and agreement between India and France. Officials clarified that it will take time to finalize matters including the amount.

‘Omnirole Jet’

The Rafale-Marine is a single-seat, twin-jet fighter plane that operates from aircraft carriers.

It can carry out several missions including air defence, air policing, nuclear deterrence, power projection and deployments for external missions, deep strike missions, air support for ground forces, reconnaissance missions, and pilot training sorties.

The jet has a wingspan of 10.90 metres, is 15.30 metres long and 5.30 metres high
It has a maximum take-off weight of 24.5 tons and can carry an external load of up to 9.5 tons
Its maximum speed is 1.8 Mach (1,389 kmph)
It can operate at a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet

The Dassault website describes the Rafale as an “Omnirole” aircraft.

“Its design makes its relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats, it addresses the emerging needs of the armed forces in a changing geopolitical and security context, and, with its endless growth potential, it constantly remains at the forefront of the technical innovation,” the website states.

According to Economic Times, the craft can conduct air-to-ground and air-to-air missions simultaneously.

It mission system supports weapons such as the long-range Meteor missile, MICA missiles, HAMMER, SCALP, AM39 EXOCET, and laser-guided bombs, along with a 2,500 rounds-per-minute NEXTER internal cannon.

According to PTI, the fighter aircraft has Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar with increased situational awareness due to early detection and tracking of multiple targets.

Rafale-Marine’s Thales RBE2-M is designed for maritime operations
Its electronic warfare suite is called the Thales SPECTRA
It also has a reinforced undercarriage
It also has a “jump strut” nosewheel that expands during short take-offs like catapult launches
Equipped with a microwave landing system, the naval version of Rafale has a “fin-tip Telemir system for syncing the inertial navigation system"

Rafale-Marine Preferred Over F/A-18 "Super Hornets"

India decided to go in for the Rafale-Marine rather than the American F/A-18 Super Hornet. This came after rigorous testing at the shore-based test facility in Goa. A big advantage of the Rafale-Marine is that it is compatible with India’s existing Rafale planes. This is likely to bring down costs when it comes to spare parts and maintenance.

The crafts are thought to have 80 per cent of their components in common. The main difference between the planes is in the “longer, more strengthened nose,” and landing, as per the newspaper.

The Rafale-Marine has a nose-gear-mounted catapult hook which will “enable the aircraft to be aligned and correctly tensioned, ready for catapulting, increasing launch speed and eliminating the need for deck crew to work under the aircraft.”

The fighter jet has a tail-hook or arresting hook to stop the plane during landings.

Sources in the government said they would try to complete negotiations with France and sign the agreement by the end of this financial year.

The Indian side is looking to sign the contract this fiscal year.

France is expected to start delivering the planes in 2027.

Sources said that while the Indian Navy was preparing to send bid papers to France, a joint bid with the IAF is not thought to be on the cards.

In France, the navy and air force both operate the Rafale fighters.

They thus share common stores.

No Joint Bid

Sources said a joint bid with the Indian Navy could have possibly lowered the cost of the planes and perhaps even led to a new production line being established in India.

“Setting up a production line for building an aircraft in India is all dependent on the numbers. It is not financially viable to set up a new production line for a small number of fighter jets,” the source told the newspaper.

The IAF has formed two Rafale squadrons — Hasimara and Ambala — each having its own stores and simulators.

In December, France had submitted its response to India’s tender for 26 Rafale-Marine jets for the Navy’s aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya. The response to India’s Letter of Acceptance was submitted in New Delhi.

The Indian side has carried out a detailed study of the French bid for the Indian deal including the commercial offer or price for the aircraft, along with other details of the contract, they said.

India will now go in for tough negotiations with French government officials, as it is a government-to-government contract.

The Navy Chief has directed his team to ensure the timeframe required for the project was squeezed significantly to ensure early finalisation and induction of the planes in the inventory.

Reply To Chinese Threat

The main objective of buying Rafale-Marine jets is to counter China's threat in the Indian Ocean. China has begun trialling naval warplanes from warships Fujian, Liaoning and Shandong.

Weapons Along With Rafale

India will buy 22 single-seat marine jets and four twin-seat jets. The package consists of ancillary weapons, simulators, spare parts, crew training and logistics.