New Delhi’s request for 36 Dassault Rafale fighters from France underlines the challenging obsolescence issues facing the Indian air force.

The announcement came on Friday during a visit to France by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. The deal will be conducted between the two governments, and media reports indicate that it could be concluded in weeks.

It is not clear what bearing the surprise 36 aircraft acquisition will have on New Delhi’s long running negotiations with Dassault to order 126 Rafales under the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) acquisition.

Under the MMRCA deal, in which Rafale was named as the preferred bidder in 2012, 18 aircraft were to have been delivered direct from France, with the balance to be produced in India by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).

Industry sources indicate that a stumbling block to the conclusion of the MMRCA deal is Dassault’s reluctance to guarantee the quality of aircraft produced by HAL. Indeed, Dassault previously attempted to team with a private Indian company, Reliance Industries, for the indigenous production of the type.

Rafale Aero India - Aaron Chong

Aaron Chong/Flightglobal

The 36-aircraft Rafale deal will be the type’s third export contract, following a February deal to sell 24 examples to Egypt.

New Delhi’s move to obtain 36 aircraft underlines the Indian air force’s increasingly challenging sustainment burden.

The type the MMRCA will replace, the Mikoyan MiG-21, is obsolescent and poses safety concerns. In addition, New Delhi’s fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKIs (many of which were produced by HAL) also suffers from sustainment challenges.

Upgrades to another key type, the Sepecat Jaguar, appear to be stalled as well.