A day after defence minister AK Antony asked the armed forces to gear up for a cut in military spending, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said India was on track to ink the world’s biggest fighter contract by “the middle of this year.”
India had last year picked French firm Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jet over Eurofighter Typhoon in a hotly-contested $18 billion (Rs 99,000 crore) contract to equip the Indian Air Force with 126 advanced combat aircraft.
The IAF chief said, “The major part of contract negotiations is over. We are now discussing what work share Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will have. If all goes well, the contract will be signed by the middle of this year.”
Dassault will supply 18 fighter planes to the IAF in flyaway condition, while the remaining 108 will be licence produced by HAL.
Antony had on Wednesday said the armed forces had been asked to prioritise their requirements against the backdrop of a cut in the forthcoming defence budget.
The minister, however, emphasised that the operational readiness of the armed forces would not be compromised.
The twin-engine French aircraft is capable of carrying out a variety of missions --- ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance and nuclear strike deterrence.
It can carry more than nine tonnes of weapons on 14 hardpoints.
The Rafale programme was launched after the French Air Force and French Navy decided they wanted to deploy an omnirole fighter to replace seven different types of combat aircraft operated by them.