Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to announce a multi-billion dollar deal to acquire 26 Rafale M fighter jets during his visit to France. The announcement is likely to take place on July 17, when the Prime Minister will be the guest of honour at the Bastille Day parade.
The Indian Navy has expressed a preference for the French Rafale Marine over the US F-18 Super Hornets for its deck-based operations. While the exact price of the deal has not been revealed, sources indicate that these carrier-borne fighters will be more cost-effective compared to the ones purchased by the Indian Air Force previously.
The procurement of the Rafale M jets will be done through a government-to-government deal rather than an open tender process.
The Indian Navy has been searching for a suitable replacement for its ageing MiG 29K fighter jets to be deployed on the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier. According to sources, the quest ended with the selection of Dassault’s Rafale Marine, which shares over 80% commonality with the Rafale jets operated by the Indian Air Force. The Navy’s preference for the French fighter is driven by the cost savings resulting from fleet commonality in terms of training, repairs, and maintenance.
The Rafale M’s capabilities were reportedly demonstrated during a joint exercise and operational demonstration test in India, which impressed the Indian Navy brass. Following these tests, the Navy informed the Ministry of Defence that the Rafale-M was the most suitable choice for its requirements.
The Ministry of Defence has worked out a detailed maintenance, spares, and training contract, which includes the construction of an onboard maintenance facility on the INS Vikrant and a ground facility in Goa, along with training programs for ground crew and pilots. The fighters will be equipped with advanced maritime systems, including maritime search radars capable of detecting submarines and warships.
While India is also working on a long-term plan to develop indigenous deck-based fighters in collaboration with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), these aircraft will take a few years to be ready for deployment. Therefore, the Indian Navy has decided to proceed with the outright purchase of the Rafale Marine jets to fulfil its short-term needs.