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Techno-commercial negotiations on Rafale-M, Scorpene projects yet to be firmed up: Sources

Fly-past of Rafale aircraft during Bastille Day Parade, in Paris, France, Friday, July 14, 2023. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the event. A PTI Photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): The negotiations on cost and techno-commercial details relating to India's proposed procurement of 26 Rafale-M fighter jets and three Scorpene submarines from France are not yet concluded, sources said today.

India's state-run ship-builder Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) and French defence major Naval Group firmed up a framework agreement on July 6 for the Scorpene submarine project but negotiations on price and other technical details are yet to be firmed up, they said.

On the procurement of the Rafale-M, the naval variant of the jet, the sources said the deal will be sealed once the techno-commercial negotiations are concluded.

Expansion of overall India-France defence cooperation, especially to co-develop and co-produce key military platforms, was one of the outcomes of talks between Prime Minister Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

On the decision by the two sides for co-development of a fighter aircraft engine by French defence major Safran in India, the sources said it will be based on requirement of the Indian armed forces.

While GE Aerospace's existing F-414 engines would be co-produced in India, the engine to be co-designed and co-developed by Safran will depend on India's requirement, they said, noting it would be entirely a new engine.

GE Aerospace's deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to produce fighter jet engines for the Indian Air Force was announced during Modi's visit to Washington last month.

"There is a difference between the two projects," said one of the sources indicating that the Indo-France jet engine development programme is much wider in scale compared to the F414 engine programme.

Dassault Aviation, the French aerospace major and maker of Rafale aircraft, said last week that the Indian government announced the selection of the naval variant of the jet to equip the Indian Navy with the latest-generation plane.

The Defence Acquisition Council, headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on July 13 accorded the approval for the purchase of 26 Rafale-M and the three-Scorpene submarines from France.

There was no mention of the procurement of the Rafale jets in a joint document released on July 14 following talks between Prime Minister Modi and French President Macron.

A draft version of the document issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) late on that night referred to an agreement for procurement of three Scorpene submarines.

However, that portion didn't figure in an updated version.

People aware of the matter said the joint document that is available on the ministry's website was agreed on by both countries and the same text is on the French website too.

They said it seemed some earlier negotiating text got uploaded on the ministry's website for a short while. That was not an agreed text in any way, said one of the people.

One of the sources said, "The techno-commercial details and price negotiations have not been concluded".

Under the Indian Navy's Project 75, six Scorpene submarines have already been constructed in India by Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) in cooperation with the Naval Group of France.

The three additional submarines are also set to be built in India by the MDL.

The talks between Prime Minister Modi and French President Macron focused on "ground-breaking" defence cooperation in advanced aeronautical technologies by supporting the joint development of a combat aircraft engine, the Horizon 2047 document said.

"In line with their outstanding cooperation in military aviation spanning over five decades, India and France welcome the timely delivery of the 36 Rafale ordered by India," it said.

"In the future, India and France will extend their ground-breaking defence cooperation in advanced aeronautical technologies by supporting the joint development of a combat aircraft engine," it added.

It said the two sides also supported industrial cooperation for motorisation of heavy-lift helicopters under the Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) programme with Safran helicopter engine.

"To enable progress on the IMRH programme, a Shareholders' Agreement between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India and Safran helicopter engine, France has been concluded for engine development," it said.

The joint document said India and France hail the success of the first Scorpene submarine construction programme (P75 Kalvari), a model of Make in India and the sharing of naval expertise between companies in the two countries.

"India and France are ready to explore more ambitious projects to develop the Indian submarine fleet and its performance," it said.

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