April 11, 2015 / 5:53 PM / 3 years ago

India to wait another two years for French Rafale jets: minister

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will not receive its first Rafale fighter jet from France’s Dassault Aviation for up to two and a half years and tricky issues including pricing must still be worked out, India’s defense minister said on Saturday.

A Rafale fighter jet, built by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, flies over Halim Air Base during a display for Indonesian defence and military officials in Jakarta March 25, 2015 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. REUTERS/Antara Foto/Widodo S. Jusuf

Manohar Parrikar’s comments came a day after India ordered 36 ready-to-fly Rafale fighters to modernize an ageing fleet apace with neighbors China and arch-rival Pakistan, which are fast upgrading military hardware.

While the order is meant to be delivered as soon as possible, terms and conditions of the deal - estimated at about 4 billion euros ($4.25 billion) - have yet to be worked out, the minister said.

“It may take two to two-and-a-half years to get the first plane,” Parrikar told reporters. “Fly-away means not tomorrow, it has to be designed as per India’s need, plus there is a requirement of working out the price.”

India and France have negotiated for Rafale fighters for three years. A 2012 agreement to buy 126 jets stalled over cost and a dispute over the assembly of 108 aircraft in India.

A French Defence Ministry source said on Friday the new deal announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Paris was separate from the original negotiations.

Indian military officials have warned their air force risks falling behind without new foreign warplanes or if local contractors cannot meet the military’s needs in a timely manner.

The reliance on a disparate fleet of Russian-made MiG and French Mirage fighters, along with modern Russian Sukhoi Su-30s, has made it vulnerable. Half of India’s fighters are due to retire by 2024.

The Indian air force has 34 operational squadrons, down from 39 earlier this decade and below the approved strength of 42, a parliamentary committee said in December.

The Rafale fighters are expected to replace some of the MiGs and Mirage jets.

Even as India waits for the planes, a prominent member of Modi’s party threatened to block the deal in the Supreme Court.

Subramanian Swamy, who has a reputation as a maverick, said the Rafale jet was weaker than its rivals, without giving evidence for his assertions.

“The Rafale performance of Libya and Egypt turned out to be worst of all the aircrafts which were deployed,” he said.

“If the prime minister for some other compulsion anyway decides to go ahead with the deal, then I will have no option but to approach the court.”

Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alison Williams

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