France and India are fully on track to seal the deal for the around $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project, under which IAF will acquire 126 Rafale fighter jets, French ambassador Francios Richier said.
"Negotiations have recently achieved significant progress. We are looking to sign the intergovernmental agreement together with the commercial contract for the planes," said Richier, speaking exclusively to TOI.
Reacting to recent reports that France had asked the Indian government to sign a government guarantee to safeguard the negotiations for the fighters, Richier denied that any such agreement was asked for. "We have worked very closely with all Indian governments, so we have no reason to ask for such an agreement," he said.
The final MMRCA contract is expected to be inked by the next government that comes to office in May-June after the general elections. Even the ongoing French Scorpene project, under which six submarines are being built at Mazagon Docks, was eventually signed by the UPA-1 government in October 2005 despite the bulk of its negotiations taking place under the previous NDA regime.
"We are confident about the progress in the negotiation process (for the MMRCA project)," said Richier. Though the pace of the final negotiations has been glacial since the Rafale was finally selected over its rivals in January 2012, the IAF is also now quite hopeful that the contract with French aviation major Dassault will be inked in the 2014-2015 fiscal.
Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) finalized the MMRCA work-share agreement in February, under which the Indian defence PSU will have a 70% role, after months of bitter wrangling. Under the MMRCA project, while the first 18 jets will come in "fly-away condition", HAL is to manufacture the rest 108 fighters under licence over six years.
"Now that issues like work-share, warranty and liquidity damages have been resolved, the responsibility matrix of all Indian production agencies is being finalized. Once that is done, the draft contract will be readied for the final government clearance," said a source.
Eurofighter Typhoon as well as the US fighters that lost out in the long-drawn selection process are eagerly waiting in the wings in the hope of staging a comeback in the dogfight over the world's biggest such tender.
But there seems little possibility of that happening now, with India having invested almost a decade in finally selecting the Rafale after extensive technical and commercial evaluation. Down to just 34 fighter squadrons at present when it requires at least 44, IAF is banking upon the MMRCA project to retain its combat edge against adversaries.