(Updated on 12th April 2015)
Yesterday afternoon, French and American media reported that France and India were discussing a sale of 63 Rafale jets, to be constructed in France and delivered to India in flyaway condition, so that the IAF could quickly replace at least some of its obsolete MiG-21 aircraft with these new French jets:
“PARIS — French and Indian officials are negotiating an off-the-shelf order worth €7.2 billion (US $7.6 billion) for 63 Rafale fighter jets to equip three Indian Air Force squadrons, during a visit by the Indian prime minister, daily Le Monde reported Friday. “The discussions lasted all night, they are continuing this morning,” a source close to the talks said, Le Monde reported. “The idea is to be able to announce this contract during the visit to Paris of Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, on Friday or Saturday.” Modi is on a two-day state visit. (…) While the number of aircraft has yet to be finalized, the order would be for Rafales built in France rather than assembled in India with technology transfer. This is available under an option agreed with Dassault in 2012 for an off-the-shelf purchase of 63 “supplementary” units, the afternoon daily reported. Negotiations have been conducted for three years for a purchase of 126 Rafales, of which 18 would be built in France and 108 in India. If agreed, this off-the-shelf deal would speed up acquisition for the Indian Air Force, the report said, while talks on the larger buy continued. “The Rafale question is still under discussion and we should be able to move ahead on a mutually agreed basis,” Modi told Le Figaro, the daily owned by the Dassault family.”
Yesterday afternoon, at a press conference with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India would place an initial order for 36 Rafales, while talks on the 126 fighters originally envisaged by the Indian MRCA [Medium Regional Combat Aircraft] program would continue. This means that those 36 Rafales India will urgently order are an arms package separate from, not part of, the 126 aircraft whose sale Dassault and India are still negotiating. Opex360 reports in French:
“À l’issue d’une rencontre avec le président Hollande, ce 10 avril, à l’Élysée, le Premier ministre indien, Narendra Modi, a en effet confirmé l’intention de New Delhi de commander 36 avions Rafale.
Plus tôt, des informations publiées par la presse indienne avait indiqué que l’Inde envisageait de revoir ses plans dans le cadre du programme M-MRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft), qui prévoyait l’acquisition de 126 appareils, dont 108 devaient être assemblés par le constructeur indien HAL. « J’ai demandé au président [ndlr, Hollande] la fourniture de 36 Rafale prêts à voler à l’Inde », a ainsi affirmé Narendra Modi. Toutefois, le Premier ministre indien a indiqué que les termes et les modalités du contrat restaient encore à préciser. « Nos fonctionnaires vont discuter de ces aspects plus en détail et poursuivre les négociations », a-t-il dit. En outre, et selon une source française citée par l’agence Reuters, cette commande serait distincte des négociations exclusives entamées en janvier 2012 dans le cadre de l’appel d’offres M-MRCA, remporté par Dassault Aviation et le Rafale, aux dépens de l’Eurofighter Typhoon.”
(Hat tip to mig31foxhound for the hint.) Thus, India may very well end up ordering 162 Rafale jets – almost as many as France has ordered so far (180) !
If this order for 36 jets is signed – and there’s every reason to believe it will be – it’ll be a great success for France and her defense industry, for the Dassault Aviation company, and for President Hollande and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian personally. These two men, despite their numerous failures on other policy fronts (including maintaining France’s own defense capabilities), have shown themselves quite competent in one regard: promoting, and successfully obtaining orders for, French weapons. As the La Tribune daily has noted, they’re a good, effective weapons exporting duo. They’ve already obtained orders for 60 Rafale jets in total – while previous French administrations were not able to sell a single Rafale jet anywhere. France might’ve been able to sell the Rafale to Switzerland, had then-President Nicolas Sarkozy not falsely accused that country of being a tax haven (when, in reality, cantonal taxes in that country can be high, depending on which canton you live in – French-speaking cantons generally have high levels of taxation). Indeed, for many years, the Rafale was known as a jet which, although a highly capable aircraft, was unable to obtain a single order anywhere, and was subject to widespread ridicule for that reason. Not anymore. In all fairness to Sarkozy, however, it was under his Presidency that India chose Dassault as the exclusive partner for negotiations on the sale of 126 fighter jets – talks that are continuing to this day. He therefore deserves at least some of the credit for yesterday’s success as well – it’s thanks to him that France and India are even having this conversation. (And before that, he obtained a firm contract for upgrading India’s Mirage 2000 jets.) This announcement by PM Modi also marks a painful defeat for certain parties:
- The Russians, the British, the Germans, and the Italians. They (chiefly the Russians and the British) have invested a great amount of effort and money in smearing the Rafale and trying to convince India to ditch the French jet in favor of the Su-30, the MiG-35, or the Typhoon. They have failed miserably, however. India might actually end up ordering more Rafales than originally envisaged. This is, in particular, a defeat for the UK: it, along with West Germany and Italy, forced France to leave the Eurofighter program in 1984 because they didn’t want to develop a carrier-capable fighter (while France wanted it). Now, as my fellow blogger Picard says, France has a fighter that has not only arrived sooner, but is carrier-capable and better, in most respects, than the Typhoon – while the UK is stuck buying crappy F-35s for its carriers (which will be STOVL and not CATOBAR).
- The naysayers (including so-called “experts” such as Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group) who were completely surprised that Egypt ordered 24 Rafale jets and claimed this would likely be the sole order Dassault would win for those aircraft.
UPDATE: The Le Figaro daily, the main right-wing daily newspaper in France (and one of the most widely-read), owned by the Dassault family, trumpets Rafale’s export success from its first page, congratulates President Hollande and Defense Minister Le Drian and gives a very nice, detailed, interactive infographic about where in France various parts of the Rafale are made. The program benefits many regions of the country, but final assembly takes place at Merignac, next to the Merignac airport serving the city of Bordeaux, in the Aquitaine region. Now, with Rafale’s export successes, the region will be famous for more than its excellent wines.
That Le Figaro, France’s main right-wing daily, is congratulating a Socialist President and a Socialist Defense Minister, is not surprising, because this duo has proven very effective in winning export orders for the Rafale. So, naturally, the Dassault family wants them to continue. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in particular has worked very hard on that front with India and France’s Arab partners. In recent times, he’s visited India every 2 months on average.
Let us not forget, however, that if it hadn’t been for India’s selection of Dassault Aviation as its sole partner for talks in January 2012 – thanks to President Sarkozy’s lobbying – India would’ve never placed this rush order for the Rafale in the first place; instead, Eurofighter would’ve received it. Let’s therefore give credit to all to whom it is due.