India would buy only 36 Rafale warplanes from France, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said Sunday, ruling out the possibility of acquiring more of these fighters for the air force that is battling a depleted fleet.
The minister said the previous government’s proposed $25-billion deal for 126 Rafales was economically unviable. “We are not buying the rest. We are only buying the direct 36,” the PTI quoted Parrikar as saying.
The comments are contrary to the minister’s recent position that India could buy more Rafale fighters to strengthen the Indian Air Force.
New Delhi had in April scrapped the Rafale deal –- billed as one of biggest in the country -- more than three years after Dassault, the manufacturer of the fighter jet, was declared the lowest bidder, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi opting to buy 36 of these planes in a fly-away condition through a government-to-government deal.
In an interview to HT on April 14, Parrikar said, “I feel that some more Rafale jets maybe required but need to figure out how we acquire them… but how many will hinge on the cost factor.”
The deal for 126 fighters was too expensive and would have scuttled other modernisation plans, the minister said Sunday.
“Would there be any money for any other work? I also feel like having a BMW and Mercedes. But I don’t because I can’t afford it. First, I can’t afford it and second, I don’t need it. So, 126 Rafales was economically unviable. It was not required,” the minister told the news agency.During his visit to France last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to buy 36 of the Rafale jets in a fly-away condition under a government-to-government (G2G) contract.
India requires 45 fighter squadrons to counter a combined threat from China and Pakistan, but it has only 34 squadrons with about 18 planes each. Also, 14 of these squadrons are equipped with vintage MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters.
Former IAF boss Air Chief Marshal Fali Major said, “Frankly, I am a bit confused. Whether you are equipping IAF with Rafales or any other fighters, it has to be done quickly. And, the IAF would be better off with fewer types of aircraft.”
Parrikar has in the past questioned the medium-multirole combat aircraft tendering process, picking holes in the method employed to determine Dassault Aviation as the lowest bidder.
He has indicated that India could go for large-scale manufacturing of the light-combat aircraft or combine some other requirements and opt for a medium-weight fighter under the Prime Minister’s Make in India initiative.
India, world’s biggest importer of arms, desperately needs to modernise its military still equipped with Soviet-era hardware. The Modi government’s move to hike to 49% the foreign direct investment in the defence sector is yet to yield results.