French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation on Wednesday said the Indian order for 36 Rafale fighters was a “bit small,” hoping it would swell to around 200 warplanes over the next decade. The firm has factored in an upcoming naval aviation programme to arrive at the figure.
Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said a bigger order would ensure that transfer of technology was meatier and also position the country as a high-end manufacturing hub under the Make in India initiative. India plans to induct some 400 warplanes during the next 10 years to sharpen its military edge.
“Thirty six is a good number to start with but we need to build on that foundation. It is not big enough for transfer of technology,” Trappier told a select group of journalists at Aero India-2017. “We are pushing for more orders. We are aware of the Indian military’s requirements and additional orders could come.”
India and France signed the $8.7-billion Rafale deal on September 23, 2016. The jets, equipped with latest weapons and tailored for Indian needs, will be delivered between 2019 and 2022. Indian Air Force fighter pilots and technicians will head to France in 2018 to train on the Rafale. The IAF has also cautioned that the 36 fighters are not enough to check the erosion of its IAF’s strength.
Trappier said Rafale was a strong competitor for an Indian programme to build twin-engine fighters in the country. He said Dassault would also compete with global rivals for an order to supply 57 carrier-borne fighters to Indian Navy.
“It makes better sense to equip the IAF and the navy with the same platform as it means good logistics, maintenance and industrial support,” he said. US aerospace giant Boeing will also compete for the naval programme with its F-18 Super Hornet.
The IAF’s Rafale fighters will be equipped with European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range missiles. MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier told HT the missile’s no-escape zone was three to four times greater than other missiles. MBDA has formed a joint venture with Larsen & Toubro to take part in upcoming missile programmes under the Make in India plan.
“This is MBDA’s first JV outside Europe. We are willing to transfer most sensitive missile technologies,” Bouvier said.
Dassault Aviation has forged a joint venture with billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence for carrying out its offset obligations bundled with the Rafale deal. Ambani flew in a Rafale fighter at the airshow, pulling 6G (experiencing six times the force of gravity) during the 35-minute sortie.