Unfazed by Rafale fire, France offers fighter for Navy


PARIS: Undeterred by the controversy over the Rafale deal, France is pitching the fighter jet as a contender for the Indian Navy’s requirement of carrier-borne combat aircraft, with a top officer saying that it’s battle proven.

Pointing to operations against ISIS using the Rafale, the French Navy feels it will be suitable for India and can be easily integrated onboard the aircraft carrier under construction at Cochin Shipyard. “We have used the aircraft carrier in the fight against ISIS and have used sophisticated armaments from the Rafale that demonstrates that it works very well,” Rear Admiral Gilles Boidevezi, in charge of foreign relations for the French Navy, told ET.

“The Rafale can be integrated with non-French carriers.” Industry sources said several rounds of talks had taken place with Indian Navy regarding the Rafale offer for a requirement of 57 jets and that it hadn’t been impacted by the political controversy over the earlier deal for 36 planes. In fact, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to be in Paris from October 11 for a bilateral meeting, during which she is expected to be briefed on all ongoing projects, including Scorpene submarines and progress on Rafale production.


Beyond the 36 jets that the air force has ordered, the French side is confident about its prospects for a deal with the Indian Navy, which is trying to find new jets for the indigenous aircraft carrier under construction in Kochi. While the navy has used Russian MiG 29 K jets till now, it wants to progress to a new aircraft due to several technical problems with the fleet.

The tenders for the contract are expected to be issued shortly but it is likely to be a straight contest between the Boeing-made F/A 18 Super Hornet and the Rafale Marine. The French navy believes that it has demonstrated its ability to operate from foreign carriers. “The Rafale went to the US and was deployed on American aircraft carriers,” said Boidevezi. “The Rafale was perfectly integrated with the US carriers and has shown its capability to work with non-French platforms.”

Both the F/A 18 and Rafale Marine fighter jets have been operating from aircraft carriers but are rigged for catapult launches. This may pose problems for India as the navy uses the skijump system, which involves a runway that curves upward. Sources said that extensive tests and software analysis have been conducted by the French side on the Rafale to show that it can operate with a meaningful load from ski-jump carriers.

This data has also been shared with the Indian Navy that is currently drafting technical requirements for the new fighter competition. Boeing, which makes the Super Hornet, has also shared this data with the Indian Navy.

Once the requirements are firmed up and permissions obtained from the ministry of defence, tenders will be issued. It is still unclear how the Indian side will categorise the purchase — as a direct foreign purchase or with an offset clause that mandates a proportion of the manufacturing will have to be domestic. The MiG 29 Ks were bought fully built from Russia as the relatively small number would have made domestic production too expensive.

(The reporter is in France at the invitation of the GICAN French Naval Industry Association.)


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