While the political squabble between BJP and Congress over purchase of 36 Rafale jets from Paris-based Dassault Aviation is far from over, the government is reportedly ready to give its nod to the long-drawn acquisition project for 114 new fighter jets for over $20 billion (Rs 1.4 lakh crore).
According to a report in The Times of India, Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by minister Nirmala Sitharaman, is likely to consider "acceptance of necessity (AoN)" for the 114-jet project later this month or early next month. The report added that a new contender will be in the race to sell aircraft this time.
The Russian Sukhoi-35 fighter has also joined the competition for what is being touted as 'mother of all defence deals'. The Russian aircraft manufacturer reportedly submitted its bid to the preliminary tender or request for information (RFI) issued by IAF in April. This comes after the first six contenders, F/A-18 and F-16 (US), Gripen-E (Sweden), MiG-35 (Russia), Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale, sent their bids in early-July.
Under the proposed project, while the first 18 jets will come in "a flyaway condition" in three to five years after the contract is inked, the rest will thereafter be produced in India under the new "strategic partnership (SP)" policy in a joint venture between the selected foreign aviation major and its Indian partner, the daily said.
The report, however, added it will take at least four to five years for the actual contract to be inked with the selected foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-Indian partner combine. It's estimated each bare-bone fighter will cost around $100 million, with another $100 million for the "add-ons" in terms of weapons, simulators, performance-based logistics and the like.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi had earlier questioned why a 'fighter jet worth Rs 520 crore' was bought for Rs 1,600 crore. He even challenged the Modi government to form a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to scrutinise the Rafale deal.
Rafale is a French twin-engine multi-role fighter jet designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Rafale jets are considered to be one of the most potent combat jets globally. India and France signed a deal worth 7.87 billion euros (Rs 59,000 crore approximately) on September 23, 2016, for 36 Rafale jets. The delivery of the aircraft will start from September 2019.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who recently got back to North Block after recovering from his kidney transplant, has countered Gandhi's claims on Twitter. "Any issue diversion by @RahulGandhi on my Rafale questions, will not wipe out his falsehood on Rafale," he tweeted yesterday. In another tweet he claimed that "The fully weaponised Rafale air craft's 2016 price is 20% cheaper than the 2007 offer. This is what the 2015 statement of the PM and the French President refers to as 'on terms better than the 2007 offers'."