Although officially the IAF and MoD continue to maintain that negotiations are on track and should be concluded soon, the reality is that even small acquisitions are on the backburner, says RS Chauhan
Has the defence ministry decided to go slow on the negotiations in the multi-billion dollar purchase of 126 Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force from French manufacturer Dassault Aviation?
Top sources in the MoD have told rediff.com that the negotiation team, currently engaged in fixing the price for the aircraft, has been asked to delay a final decision until a political call is taken whether or not to purchase these aircraft.
Defence Minister AK Antony, on the back foot after allegations of corruption in the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters surfaced in January, is worried about a two-year-old allegation of violation of procedure in selecting Rafale, and therefore wants the charge probed once again. Ministry officials say the high price quoted by the French manufacturer is also another factor that is impeding the acquisition process.
In 2011 a Telugu Desam Party member of Parliament M V Mysura Reddy had written to Antony asking for a relook at the acquisition process and had alleged violations in the "evaluation process."
Objections had also been raised by two members of the team that drew up the short list of two manufacturers -- Dassault and European consortium EADS -- on the parameters used to finally select Rafale as the cheapest option. That time the objections were overruled by the Defence Acquisition Council but the minister has now apparently asked for a relook.
Besides, negotiations with Dassault are stuck on the extent of Hindustan Aeronautic’s involvement in manufacturing the aircraft in India. According to the original terms of the contract, the company that would win the massive 15 billion dollar order to supply 126 combat jets to the Indian Air Force, would have had to manufacture 118 of the aircraft in India.
HAL, a government entity and the sole aircraft manufacturer in India, was assumed to be the automatic choice to be the local partner. But now, complications have arisen because of Dassault's insistence that it should have the right to choose a partner other than HAL.
Moreover, the view that India should look at inducting the Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft -- being jointly developed by India and Russia -- appears to be gaining ground within South Block. The FGFA is expected to be ready by 2019 as against the first deliveries of the Rafale which were expected in 2017 provided the contract is signed this year.
Although officially the IAF and MoD continue to maintain that negotiations are on track and should be concluded soon, the reality is that even small acquisitions, leave alone a massive one like the Medium multi Role Combat Aircraft contract, are on the backburner because of recent developments and the inability of the government to take tough decisions.