Just a week before French President Francois Hollande’s arrival in New Delhi to attend India’s Republic Day parade as chief guest on January 26, his Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that the Rafale jets deal with the South Asian has not been done yet.
In December, Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said that New Delhi would finalise a deal to acquire 36 combat planes from Dassault ahead of President Hollande’s visit. However, the two parties have failed to reach an agreement on price and other terms of the sale. The Indian minister recently said that the two sides would try hard to seal the pact just before the arrival of President Hollande on January 24. “It’s closer to completion,” stressed Parrikar, without giving any details.
Sources close to the Indian government have hinted that a breakthrough could be possible in the fourth week of January, as the Indian Air Force (IAF) desperately wants to replace its ageing squadrons of Soviet-era fighter jets to face a two-front threat from China and Pakistan. India is the only country in the world which tackles two nuclear-powerful neighbours.
Although the Defence Ministry had cleared the acquisition of 126 Rafale jets, estimated to be worth USD 12 billion, in August 2007, it scaled back the number of planes to 36 on April 10, 2015 as the two sides failed to agree on the unit price. “The procedure is going on,” Parrikar told the press.
Meanwhile, strategic experts have appeared confident that an option for add-on purchases could give France an extra edge over the US and its European rivals circling India’s lucrative arms market. But, the biggest stumbling block remaining is the price and it is very unlikely to be resolved in the next seven days.