This could finally be it. India’s chronically delayed effort to contract for new medium fighter jets could finally be at an end. While France’s monumental four-year endeavour to get India to sign up for Rafale jets has fluttered endlessly, India’s defence minister has for the first time provided a specific timeframe for contract signatute: next month! In interviews he gave out today, including this one to the Press Trust of India, Minister Manohar Parrikar has been quoted as saying, “There is no reason why it should not be concluded in June. Not much is left. It is in the last phase.” In the muddle that is India’s campaign for new jets, little scraps of explicit guidance mean a lot. Parrikar, whose party, the BJP, recently faux pa’d by claiming that a cheaper Rafale deal was a government achievement, has also indicated that he will “see to it” that the deal is done in June.
And that’s precisely where negotiations have been slowed: on final price negotiations. Earlier this month, it was reported that France had put on the table its final ‘take it or leave it’ deal: a €7.25 billion price tag for the 36 flyaway Rafale fighters, with a separately negotiated weapons contract. It’s important that Minister Parrikar has chosen his government’s two-year anniversary — a time when Ministers are usually deployed to provide specific guidance and trumpet achievements — to provide the first explicit time frame for a contract on what has been one of India’s most elusive modernisation efforts (India’s nearly two decade campaign to induct jet trainers still holds that record).
The Minister also chose today to unveil a ‘booklet on self-reliance’ in defence production.