India and France may announce their Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) for Rafale fighter jets in the next few days. For this purpose, India has invited French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to visit Delhi next week. Although a formal confirmation from Paris is on the way, the two sides are expected to announce the signing of an IGA for 36 Rafales next week.
Since the Cabinet Committee on Security has already approved the project, a contract, according to the procedures, should be signed within 45 days. An advance of 10-15 per cent of the total contract value may be paid to the French government at the signing of the contract.
The critical factor behind New Delhi’s desire to buy only 36 French Rafale aircraft is to use these fighters for the strategic purpose of delivering nuclear weapons in times of war.
At present, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has 32 fighter squadrons against an authorisation of 42, and many of them, particularly the MiGs, are reaching the end of their life this decade. Thirty-six Rafales, to be inducted between 2019 and 2023, will make for only two squadrons. This still leaves a huge gap, which could be filled by either the indigenous Tejas fighters or another foreign fighter such as the Swedish Gripen or the American F-16, both of which have been offered for production under ‘Make in India’.