New Delhi, Nov 17 (IANS) The issue of purchase of more Rafale fighter jets was raised when the Indian and French Defence Ministers met here last month, but India has not given any answer yet, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday.
India is buying 36 Rafale fighter jets from France under a government-to-government agreement, and there have been talks of purchasing more of the fighter jets as a follow-on order.
Asked if French Defence Minister Florence Parly raised the issue of purchase of more Rafale fighter jets during her visit to India last month, Sitharaman replied in the affirmative.
“Yes, the French Defence Minister raised the matter with me, but I haven’t given any answer,” she said.
This is the first official acknowledgement that talks on purchasing more Rafale fighters was on between India and France.
Sitharaman said that 36 Rafale fighters were bought as the government wanted to procure fighter jets at the earliest, and added that more fighter jets will have to be bought to meet the Indian Air Force’s requirements.
“We will have to buy more (fighter aircraft), but who we will buy it from, when we will buy, we will see that,” she said.
After the deal under which 36 Rafale jets are being bought off-the-shelf, there has been talk of purchasing 36 more of the fighters, which might cost lesser under a “follow-on” deal.
India and France signed an inter-government agreement for purchase of 36 Rafale fighters, off-the-shelf, on September 23 this year. This was after a long negotiation over the price and other aspects of the deal, which was agreed upon during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France in April 2015.
The deliveries of the aircraft will start from 2019 end, and will be ended in 2022. Indian Air Force bases at Ambala in Haryana, close to the western border, and Hashimara in West Bengal, close to the China border, are set to home the squadrons of Rafale fighters.
The IAF currently has 33 combat squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 39.5, which is sought to be raised to 42. Former Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, in a press conference days before retiring last year in December had said that the IAF needs at least 200 more fighter jets in next 10 years.
Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa had said in the annual press conference of IAF that full squadron strength will be reached by 2032.
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