As India’s negotiations with Dassault for the sale of 126 Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) drag into its third year, questions are being raised if the Indian MoD had all aspects of cost covered before selecting the French aircraft manufacturer as the lowest bidder or ‘L1’.
At the time of announcing the final winner, the Indian MoD had said that both the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon had met the technical qualifications as outlined in the Request for Proposals (RFP). The French aircraft had made it to the rope on the strength of its comparatively lower price. However, the very basis for arriving at the price seems to be challenged in the post-selection negotiations with Dassault.
The timeline of the shortlisting of the two finalists and declaring the final winner speaks volumes. After announcing the short-list consisting of Rafale and Eurofighter in April 2011, the MoD took only 9 months to arrive at the L1 in January 2012.
However, it is more than two years since the final selection and India is nowhere near signing the contract with Dassault.
Some sources suggest that the MoD should have conducted parallel negotiations with the L1 and L2 (Eurofighter) to speed up the final selection. Parallel negotiations on precisely those aspects which are hindering the deal now, would have ensured that the IAF got a better deal in the final analysis.
Trouble seems to have been brewing early in the negotiations. In mid-2012, a Dassault source had told defenseworld.net, “we still have a long way to go”, when asked if a timeframe could be assigned to the contract signing.
While officially there is no word from either the Indian MoD or Dassault, information pieced together from various sources suggests that after selecting the L1, the MoD sat with Dassault to work out the final aircraft configuration, the transfer of technology package, offsets and life cycle costs.
What was submitted at the RFP stage was on-paper costs, however, the figure appears to have altered substantially once the actual numbers were worked out- one of the main reasons, according to sources for the delayed negotiations.
All this when the Indian Air Force (IAF) has time and again voiced that acquiring the MMRCA is a top priority. Former Indian Air Force Chief, NAK Browne has been quoted during the annual IAF Day press conference in October 2013 as saying, “we need to get the deal going, or we'll face a big shortfall of fighters in the 2017-22 period”, adding, "the deal has to work. There's no other option”.