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OPINION: Rafale buy gives India a fighting chance

Seasoned watchers of India’s slow-moving defence procurement system noted the three-year ­anniversary earlier this year of its selection of the ­Dassault ­Rafale, at a time when a contract signature seemed to be barely a blip on the radar screen.

The Narendra Modi government appears to have shot down the lumbering medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) programme run by its predecessor, instead preferring a swift engagement with its French counterpart. A contract could now be signed within months – but for just 36 Rafales, rather than a ­previously planned blockbuster buy of 126.

Despite the reduction in numbers, Modi’s decision is a tactical success for both sides. For Dassault, it keeps the momentum created by February’s export deal to provide 24 Rafales to Egypt, and the government-to-government business model will spare it the headaches associated with local production requirements that kept the MMRCA paperwork unsigned.

India’s air force can field an advanced model with the assurance of assembly being performed by an original equipment manufacturer, and park up more of its ailing MiG-21s sooner. The French-built fighters could be followed by further batches, or joined in formation by cheaper, single-engined companions. This latter suggestion is certain to prompt a whole new dogfight, with types like the Saab Gripen sure to be in the mix.

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