India Receives First Rafale Combat Aircraft

India took official handover of the first of an eventual 36 Dassault Rafale combat aircraft in a formal ceremony at the Dassault Merignac production line in Southwest France on October 8. The handover comes three years after India signed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with France on September 23, 2016.

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh  noted the successful defense cooperation between India and France at the ceremony – a level of cooperation Paris hopes to see evolve into further orders of the Dassault jet fighters.

India currently has a requirement for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to field 42 combat aircraft squadrons (roughly 18 fighters apiece) in order to deter and defend against a potential collusive attack from neighboring Pakistan and China. But the IAF only fields a total of 30 such squadrons, with six derived from aging Russian-legacy MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters slated for progressive retirement through 2024.

The 2016 Rafale purchase was seen as an emergency buy that would  upgrade current capabilities being phased out of service while plugging an interim gap. However, reports indicate  the Rafale is possibly a likely winner in the reboot of the abandoned $11 billion, 126-unit competition for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), labeled the “Deal of the Century.”

The latest contest involves the procurement of 110 fighters from a foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) under the government’s “Strategic Partnership” policy, which fits within the “Make in India” procurement category. Six OEMs responded to the 72-page preliminary Request for Information (RFI) released by the IAF on April 8, 2018. Four foreign manufacturers offered up twin-engine fighters (Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and RAC MIG MiG-35) with two presenting single-engine types (Lockheed Martin F-16V Block 70 redesignated the F-21 and the Saab Gripen E).

There are also reports in local media that the IAF might try to double its current order of Rafales via a repeat of the intergovernmental agreement route.

For now, however, the current order awaits in-country delivery. The first batch of four Rafales is expected to arrive at their base in India by May 2020, with the entire order delivered by September 2022.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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