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Indian defence minister plays down hopes of swift Rafale deal

A Rafale jet
A Rafale jet flickr/cc

India's defence minister on Wednesday poured cold water on hopes that a contract for France to supply 126 Rafale fighter jets will soon be signed. AK Antony said that the deal will have to jump through several hoops before being approved, increasing fears that it will not be closed before a possible change of government next year.

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"How can I set a deadline?" Antony asked reporters in Delhi. "The process is on."

He said he could not interfere with the Contract Negotiation Committee, which is reviewing the 10-billion-euro contract.

Thanks to India's strict procurement process designed to eliminate corruption, it must then pass through "four to five mechanisms" before being considered by the defence and finance ministries and then the cabinet, he added.

"Each body is interested to scrutinise at various phases. It is up to them," Antony said.

His statement dashed hopes that had been raised by Indian Air Force Deputy Chief Air Marshal S Sukumar's reported prediciton earlier this month that the contract was

Dossier: Pakistan General Election 2013

expected to be signed by the end of this financial year.

India is expected to hold an election in the first six months of next year and Rafale's manufacturer, Dassault, is anxious that a change of government might lead to the deal being scrapped.

Delhi chose Dassault for exclusive negotiation in January 2012 but the talks have dragged out, running into trouble over the Fench company's reluctance to take responsibility for delays on the delivery of planes built at India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

French President François Hollande and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian have both thrown their weight behind Dassault on visits to India but have failed to speed up the process.

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