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In a recent development, a senior-ranking official from the Indian Air Force (IAF) has indicated a preference for a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal for the procurement of additional French Dassault Rafale fighter jets. The suggestion comes amid concerns over the lengthy and intricate process of tendering, as witnessed in the MRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) tender that spanned nearly a decade before being scrapped. The IAF’s urgent need to augment its combat strength, coupled with considerations of efficiency, has prompted this proposition.

The MRCA tender process, initiated to address the IAF’s requirement for medium multi-role combat aircraft, faced protracted delays and complications, ultimately leading to its abandonment. In response to the critical need for bolstering the IAF’s fighter jet capabilities, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) opted for an Emergency Purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault. While this decision helped alleviate immediate concerns, it underscored the urgency for a more efficient and streamlined procurement approach.

Despite the ongoing procurement of the indigenously developed LCA-Tejas Mk1A, with plans to order 97 more units on top of the existing 83, the IAF remains concerned about the adequacy of its current combat strength. The proposal for an additional 90 Rafale fighter jets, featuring Transfer of Technology (ToT) and Make in India clauses, was put forth by the IAF. However, the MoD opted for a tender process, potentially extending the timeline for the acquisition by 5-6 years.

Late Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, proposed the procurement of Rafale fighter jets in batches, a plan that initially garnered support within the IAF. This approach could have resulted in repeat orders for 36 more Rafale jets under a G2G deal. However, this proposal has reportedly been dropped, introducing uncertainty into the future procurement strategy for the IAF.

In light of the evolving circumstances, the IAF’s top brass has communicated to the MoD its preference for a G2G deal for the acquisition of 90 Dassault Rafale fighter jets. The proposal includes a clause for the ‘Made in India’ manufacture of the aircraft, with a subsequent option for an additional 36 jets. This strategic move aligns with the IAF’s imperative to swiftly build up its depleting combat strength and avoid the protracted delays associated with tender processes.

The Indian Air Force’s preference for a Government-to-Government deal for the procurement of additional Dassault Rafale fighter jets reflects the urgency and practical considerations in addressing its combat strength requirements. With the MRCA tender history serving as a cautionary tale, the IAF emphasizes the need for expeditious decision-making to bolster its capabilities. The proposed ‘Made in India’ Rafale deal, if pursued, could not only enhance the indigenous defense manufacturing sector but also provide the IAF with the much-needed combat edge in a timely manner. The coming months will reveal how the Ministry of Defence navigates this complex terrain to meet the critical needs of the Indian Air Force.

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