As President Nicolas Sarkozy began talks with Indian leaders to boost Indo-French ties, a French company Friday offered to sell 40 of its new generation Rafale fighters to New Delhi on a fast track basis to help IAF maintain its combat edge.
The offer was made by Charles Edelstennie, scion of the Dassult family, the makers of the Rafale and Mirage fighters. "We know the Indian Air Force, with which we have a decade-long close association, is facing force depletion. So we are ready to supply 40 Rafales, the world's first omni-role fighters to India, in a short span of time", the chairman and chief executive of Dassult, a multi-billion French military and civil aerospace company, told PTI.
Edelastennie said Rafale fighters could be an interim sale to India as New Delhi finalises preparations to acquire 126 Multi Role Combat Aircraft at an estimated cost of $10 billion (about Rs 40,000 crore).
"We estimate delays in procurements of these 126 fighters. So we are offering the Rafale fighters as interim arrangement", he said.
The government has already cleared a contract for purchase of 40 additional SU-30MKI to maintain an effective air combat strength.
Terming the Rafale fighter supply as a "friendly gesture to help close friend India," Edelstennie said his company was a strong bidder for India's MCRA contract.
Rubbishing notions that Rafale came with a heavy price tag, the Dassult CEO said "the fighters' cost to efficiency was not high. New Delhi would get a cheaper price tag as the fighters' assembly in India under technology transfer would not be high".
"Rafale is very close to life cycle cost of Mirage 2000," the French CEO, who is part of the 60-strong captains of French Industry accompanying President Sarkozy, said.
Describing Rafale as a truly multi-role aircraft, Edelstennie said the fighter had air to air, air to ground as well as air to sea capability, which would allow IAF the liberty of using fewer aircraft for multi-tasking. He said France had always been a "friend in need for India.
We have been transferring weapon platforms and systems to you even in adverse international conditions," the Dassult CEO said.
He claimed all the French military supplies to India were coming without "any strings attached" unlike sales from US and Russia.
On Rafale sales offer to India, Edelstennie said this was not the only gesture made by the French. "A couple of years ago we thrice made an offer to India to transfer the entire Mirage-2000 assembly lines and also the entire export rights of the fighters," he said. "We see and feel the regret now. It was a golden opportunity which your then government did not utilize," the French CEO claimed.
Edelastennie asserted that unlike the US fighters in contention for the Indian contract, Rafale was a generation ahead. "It is fulfilling the needs and tasks of the French air force and navy globally."
On installation of a AESA radar on the Rafale fighters as stated by the Indian fighter tender, he said a French version of the radar had been developed by the Thales company and would be in full production in the aircraft by 2012.
On the Mirage-2000 upgrade, the French executive said his company had made a proposal to India and currently negotiations were on. Asked if the estimated price tag of 1.5 billion euro for the upgrade was not too high, Edelstennie said "We have come to negotiations and let us see how the final picture would emerge".
On booming sales of his Falcon 7x900DX and 2000lx business jets sales in India, he said "the sales have been on the upward swing and we hope that they get more bigger soon".