The just-concluded G20 summit in Los Cabos may have focused on the global economic crisis, but when French President Francois Hollande met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on its sidelines, their discussion also veered towards India’s $20-billion tender for 126 combat planes for which France’s Rafale is the lowest bidder.
Top Indian officials who accompanied Manmohan Singh to Los Cabos told IANS that the French president expressed “happiness” over India down-selecting French aviation major Dassault’s Rafale plane as the lowest bidder for the tender, described as the “mother of all defence deals” for its sheer size.
Hollande told Manmohan Singh that he was hopeful the cost negotiations for the Rafale that are in progress in India will conclude soon.
India named the Rafale as the lowest bidder in February.
Rafale had beat its closest competitor, European consortium EADS Cassidian’s Eurofighter Typhoon that is in service with the four partner-nations – Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain – and has been chosen by the Austrian and Saudi Arabian air forces.
If India signs the contract with Dassault, it will be Rafale’s first export order. Rafale is the frontline combat plane of the French air force as of now.
Though beaten in the commercial bids by Rafale, the Typhoon’s manufacturers are hopeful of returning to the reckoning and have voiced their keenness to quote a better price if India so desires. The Indian government, however, has not yet shown any interest in the overture.
Asked by IANS if the French president also talked about the EADS Cassidian’s efforts to get back in the race, an official noted: “No specific reference was made.”
Rafale, along with Typhoon, had in April 2011 edged out the Boeing F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin F-16, the Saab’ Gripen and United Aircraft Corporation’s MiG-35 in the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender to emerge the front runners.
The Rafales, once the deal is signed and the delivery of the planes begins, will replace the aging Soviet-era MiG-21s of the IAF and will be the frontline plane of at least six or seven squadrons.
The Indian deal is also expected to bring business to the sagging fortunes of Dassault and revive the Rafale programme of the French air force.
Manmohan, Hollande talk India’s $20-bn plane deal | idrw.org
MMS also asked Hollande if 3-4 Rafales can escort his plane on way back to India.......