India inks long-awaited Rafale deal
March 5, 2024
Two Egyptian Air Force Rafale fighters. Photo credit: Dassault Aviation

India inks long-awaited Rafale deal

After four years of difficult negotiations – as well as even a collapse of talks (over the contract for 126 aircraft) – the Government of India has inked an $8.85 billion U.S. deal with France for 36 Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters. The first batch of fighters will be delivered to India by September 2019, the remainder will be received over the subsequent 30 months.

Within the contract itself, $3.84 billion U.S. will be spent on the aircraft themselves and an additional $2 billion will be put towards the requisite maintenance and logistics infrastructure to operate the fighter. Dassault has also guaranteed that the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s Rafales will maintain a 75% availability rate.

$1.9 billion will be spent on IAF-specific customization, such as the integration of an Elbit helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system and other internal subsystems.

A munitions package worth $800 million U.S. is also being acquired, this will include Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and SCALP air-launched cruise missiles.

According to Defense News, which had spoken to a source in the Indian Ministry of Defence, this will be divided with 30% of the contract’s value will be invested in Indian military aeronautics research and development and 20% will be committed towards production contracts for the Indian defence industry.

Notes, Comments & Analysis:

When the Indian Air Force (IAF) originally selected Rafale as the winner of its much coveted Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirement, it had intended to procure 126 fighters. In addition, most of those fighters were supposed to have been built locally in India.

Disagreements, particularly over cost, resulted in that program falling through, but in its place, the IAF has succeeded in securing two squadrons off-the-shelf as well as a solid commercial offset package, which will channel 50% of the contract’s value as a stimulus for the Indian economy.

Moreover, India’s defence industry will benefit from close to $4.5 billion in commercial offset investments from France’s leading defence vendors. This investment will not only offer work contracts for the Indian private sector but in some areas (e.g. aircraft electronics and propulsion), it could result in an infusion of valuable technology research and development support and expertise.

It would be surprising if the IAF opts for another medium-weight platform. At this stage, the Rafale is a proven and relatively well-adopted platform (thanks to recent orders from Egypt and Qatar). By investing in the maintenance and logistics infrastructure to operate the first two squadrons, the IAF would be well advised to gradually build its Rafale fleet. A look from the Indian Navy could be interesting as well.

Moreover, India’s offset clause could be utilized to accrue supra-contractual benefits. Under the current contract, the French defence industry will commit 20% of the contract’s value to production work in India. However, additional Rafale orders can be leveraged as a means to gain added concessions, such as local assembly and/or manufacturing as well as parts manufacturing, which can, in turn, be connected into the Rafale’s global supply chain. In other words, India could leverage additional orders to access the supply market for third-party users such as Qatar and Egypt.

Technology wise, the Rafale will imbue the IAF will the following operational gains above its current fleet:

First, the Rafale is marketed with a markedly high availability rate (with the French guaranteeing a 75% availability rate), which in contrast to the troubled Su-30MKI offers the IAF a platform it can depend on upon in rapid mobilization as well as under stressful wartime conditions.

Second, the Rafale boasts a very strong balance of range and payload, enabling it to effectively take on a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-surface mission roles (which the IAF will exploit via the Meteor, SCALP, and other munitions).

Third, which is is not exclusive to the Rafale in the context of the IAF, but the fighter’s potent sensor and electronics warfare and countermeasures suite places it as both a highly survivable and threatening asset.

India’s private sector and state-owned industries should be able to draw upon the expertise and technology support of Dassault, Thales, MBDA, and Safran Group, which may enable the Kaveri and other programs to overcome specific developmental challenges in the short-term, which can in turn create space for the Indian research base to rectify those obstacles indigenously over the long-term without pressure from the armed forces’ short-term operational needs.

This will directly feed into the Tejas, enabling it to not only come to fruition but to enter service as the solution the IAF had envisioned in recent years. India’s next-generation manned and unmanned aircraft programs will also benefit in various direct and indirect forms.

Overall, the Rafale contract is certainly expensive, but with 50% of it coming back as a targeted stimulus for the Indian economy, New Delhi secured a worthwhile deal.