NEW DELHI — India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract with Dassault Aviation is not likely to be signed before April 2014, despite the Indian air force’s (IAF) concerns about maintaining its tactical air deterrent capability.
According to a defense ministry official, with national elections expected sometime in April, it is highly unlikely the multi-billion-dollar contract to buy 126 Rafale fighters will be concluded during India’s current fiscal year, which ends March 31. The program is India’s biggest-ever defense acquisition.
“Negotiations on the MMRCA are still on,” the official tells Aviation Week. “Several issues have been coming up during the contract negotiations with the French firm ... We are still talking. As stated earlier, this is a major deal and we cannot place a timeline on when the deal will be signed.
“We need to consider all issues before finalizing it,” the official continues. “If the deal is delayed until next year, the first aircraft will arrive only in 2017.”
Meanwhile, Indian air force chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne has expressed concern over depleted tactical air capability and the delay in signing the MMRCA deal.
“The MMRCA and the first two squadrons of Tejas light combat aircraft are very critical for maintaining our deterrence capability,” he says. “Otherwise, our force-levels will go down rapidly.”
Despite the long delay in finalizing the MMRCA deal, he says, “There is no back-up plan. The MMRCA is the only option, and it is highly doable. We need to sign it by next year... We cannot delay it any further.”
The IAF chief also is concerned about continuing low force-levels. “We are authorized for 42 fighter squadrons but, at present, we are much below that.” Currently, the IAF has a mere 34 fighter squadrons.