The Indian Navy entered final negotiations with the French Directorate General of Armaments for the acquisition of Dassault Aviation Rafale M carrier-borne fighters upgraded to the F4 standard.
The Letter of Request (LoR) has been issued for the purchase of 26 fighters, according to sources quoted by The Hindu. The decision comes after a competitive selection process called the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) program that saw the French Rafale M emerge as the victor over the US-made Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The primary objective of the tender was replacing the aging Russian Mikoyan MiG-29K Fulcrum-D to equip the INS Vikrant, India’s maiden indigenous aircraft carrier, with a more modern and capable fighter fleet.
India’s Defence Acquisition Council had approved the acquisition of the Rafale a day before the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Paris as the guest of honor for France’s national holiday on July 14, 2023.
Enhancing India’s naval aviation capabilities
The Dassault Rafale is a multirole fighter jet developed by the French aerospace company Dassault Aviation. With the Rafale M boasting more than 80% shared features with the Indian Air Force’s 36 Rafale B and C, this choice will allow India to save costs with training, repairs, and maintenance, stemming from the commonality between the fleets.
The F4 is the latest standard, first delivered to the French Air and Space Force on March 2, 2023. Key features of the Rafale F4 include advanced radar and sensor systems, improved avionics, enhanced network-centric warfare capabilities through new satellite and intra-patrol links, and increased interoperability with allied forces.
The negotiations are expected to cover various aspects, including industrial collaboration between Dassault Aviation and its Indian counterpart, HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), financial arrangements between the governments, and the future specifications of the Indian Rafale M.
The Indian Navy is committed to having its first embarked twin-jet fighters operational within 36 months, and therefore, the signing of the contract is expected in the first quarter of 2024.
India is also considering the Rafale as part of the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) tender, with the potential acquisition of 114 new fighters for the Indian Air Force.