India and France moved closer on Monday to signing the almost three-year-old Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft upgrade deal. The deal has been hanging fire for close to three years after it was cleared by the ministry of defence’s (MoD’s) defence acquisition council (DAC) during French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s first visit to India in January 2008.
It involves integration of advanced multimode pulse Doppler radars and fire-and-forget missiles by French firms Dassault Aviation and Thales along with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
MoD had approved the Rs12,000-crore deal with Dassault, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the aircraft, at a DAC meet chaired by defence minister AK Antony on January 21, 2008.
The file for upgrade of 51 Mirage-2000 aircraft was moved by the air headquarters in 2007 and was under study by OEM.
There was strong speculation that the deal would be signed during Sarkozy’s second visit, but a joint statement said, “Discussions concerning the upgrading of Mirage-2000 aircraft are expected to be finalised soon.”
MoD sources indicated the discussions would relate to product support, after which the deal may be inked in a few weeks.
The Mirage-2000 repair contract expired in March-April 2007, and an extension was sought by MoD till September 2007.
OEMs Dassault and Snecma had sought a 30% increase in repair cost but MoD and Indian Air Force (IAF) were not ready, which delayed renewal of the contract.
Considering the obstinate stance of the French government on negotiating the price in the existing maintenance agreement, India decided to accept a door-to-door policy put forth by the French for maintenance of Mirage in July 2008.
The expensive door-to-door maintenance was accepted as an interim measure to keep the fleet of the 50-odd aircraft left in the IAF inventory active.
Under the arrangement, OEM Dassault would repair the frontline, multi-role aircraft as and when the need arises by picking up “repairable” spares directly from the unit and delivering them back, thereby saving time and holding the repair-providing manufacturer completely accountable.
IAF has about 50 two-decade-old Mirage aircraft, used for air defence and ground attacks, in three squadrons based in Gwalior for peacetime.
Items to be repaired first come to equipment depots and then to movement controls, after which they are couriered to the place of repair abroad. The delivery of repaired items sometimes takes a year, but the door-to-door policy saves time.
Meanwhile, MoD is also considering awarding Dassault contract for 126 Rafale aircraft. A joint venture between the French MBDA and Hyderabad-based BDL for short-range surface-to-air missiles for the Indian army is also under consideration.