The largest military contract in India's history for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft
(MMRCA) worth $10.4 billion, which has been in the pipeline for almost a decade, appears set to go to French company Dassault. Though no official confirmation is available yet, various reports say Dassault's bid is the lowest.
India's order for the Rafale fighter aircraft, which currently serves only the French Air Force and Navy, will be a huge win for the French company, which has only succeeded in winning a small contract to sell a few planes to Brazil until now.
For the Indian contract, the Rafale was fighting it out with the multinational Eurofighter consortium, and it was touch and go between the two.
India will be the second international client for the French Jet and will possibly resurrect the flagging fortunes of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was desperately hoping for a blockbuster deal. It will also continue the Indian Air Force's love affair with French aircraft.
Dassault Aviation has been one of India's longest-standing defence suppliers. In the 1950's and 1960's, India used both the Ouragan and Mstytere fighter jets, and despite skipping the famous Mirage III fighter, because India preferred using Soviet hardware in the 1970's, India became one of the first and longest standing users of the Mirage 2000 purchased in the mid-1980's.
In fact, in late-2011, India signed a $3 billion agreement to upgrade its fleet of 51 Mirage-2000 aircraft to keep them airworthy for another 20-25 years as well as purchasing 490 MICA air-to-air missiles which can also be used on the Rafale.
In hindsight, the deal for the missiles should have given everyone a clue that the French were leading the MMRCA race, but such big military deals are not easily decided.
Hopefully, the Rafale jets should start coming to India by the end of 2012 or early 2013 and local production should begin from 2014 (as is specified in the deal). Now, if the government and the defence ministry got moving on the deal to purchase new heavy artillery to replace close to 30-year old Bofors guns, that would be useful.