French MoD Backs Dassault's Position on Indian Rafale
by Caroline Bruneau in Ares, Feb 9, 2015
After months of watching Dassault Aviation being brow-beaten in the Indian press, French arms procurement agency DGA defended its contractor, asserting that a 2012 agreement to provide Rafale fighter jets to New Delhi never committed the company to guarantee aircraft manufactured in India.
“Dassault will not be responsible for the whole contract. It is a co-management setup,” says French defense procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon, who was clear that France will not assume full liability for the HAL-produced aircraft. “It cannot be a problem, because it was not in the request for proposals (RFP).”
Speaking to reporters during an annual media address Feb. 9 in Paris, France's arms procurement chief said the €10.2-billion ($12 billion) agreement – which has been under negotiation for more than three years – calls for the first 18 of 126 Rafale jets to be built in France. After that, India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would take over production of the remaining 108 aircraft.
However, Dassault's responsibility for the latter has been the subject of heated negotiations between New Delhi and Paris in recent months.
“A lot of progress has been made since 2012,” says Collet-Billon, adding that as negotiations enter a fourth year, he wants to believe they will give way to a contract for the 126 fighters plus 63 options.
But Collet-Billon said talks with the Indian government have become bogged down over questions of production of the fighters on Indian soil.
"India has its own pace," he said of New Delhi officials. "It’s not useful to put pressure on the client. We have to live with our differences."
In the meantime, he says rival fighter suppliers pose no serious threat to the Rafale bid. After two failed attempts to export the French fighter – South Korea in 2002 and Brazil in late 2013 – the DGA has learned to be careful.
Collet-Billon says talks are more advanced in Egypt, where France could sell up to 24 Rafale fighters, a FREMM frigate and a number of armaments.
The first of these aircraft could be delivered in 2018, although a very impatient Egypt would want “a handful” very soon, which could be delivered in 2015, according to DGA officials.
These few aircraft would relieve the burden of the French government, which is on the hook to fund 11 Rafale jets per year to keep Dassault's production line viable.
To that end, France has planned to order 11 Rafale in 2015, but just four in 2016, assuming export sales will ultimately materialize.
Export is “crucial” to maintaining the current spending scheme of €31.4 billion per year on defense, Collet-Billon said.
“Problems will occur this year if we don't export Rafale aircraft," he said.
-- with Amy Svitak in ParisAviation Week