Bangalore, Feb 7 (IANS) The Indian Air Force (IAF) hopes that the contract for the medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) Rafale will be signed by the middle of this year with the French aerospace vendor Dassault Aviation.
"The MMRCA project is very much on track. If all goes well, we will be in a position to sign the contract before middle of the year," Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne told IANS Thursday.
Giving an update on the status of the multi-billion dollar deal at an aerospace event here, Browne said the contract negotiations committee (CNC) had completed a major part of the work and discussions were underway on the work share between Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which will manufacture the fighter under licensed production.
"We hope by at least April-May the CNC will complete its work so that it (deal) could go to the finance ministry, where it will be examined all over before going to the cabinet for final approval," Browne said on the margins of Aero India 2013, a biennial trade expo on aerospace products and technologies in military and civil aviation areas.
Pointing out that the fourth-generation fighter deal was an extremely complex project, Browne said there was no short cut to the time-consuming process, which had to run its course covering technology transfer and the offset clause under stringent clauses.
"It was only a year ago (Jan 31, 2012) that the L1 (Dassault) was selected for acquiring the aircraft and the CNC was set up to finalise the deal soon after. We want it (deal) to happen as early as possible for induction soon," he said.
The contract is for purchasing 126 Rafales, including 18 jets in fly-away condition from Dassault and 108 to be manufactured by HAL, the state-run defence behemoth in Bangalore, later this decade.
The twin-engine delta-wing Rafale outsmarted Eurofighter Typhoon of EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space), which was also short-listed in 2011 out of the six global aerospace majors, including Russian MiG-35, Lockheed Martin's F-16 Falcon, Boeing's F-18 Hornet and Swedish Saab Gripen, who participated in the global tender floated in 2007.
The IAF will have an option to buy an additional 63 Rafale aircraft later.
The French fighters are meant to replace the ageing MiG 21 fleet of the Soviet era to enhance its air prowess and bridge the gaps in the fixed wing aircraft.
Dassault has flown in three Rafales, including two from the French Air Force (FAF) frontline air base at Saint-Dizier in northeast France and one from Al Dhafra military air base at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for flying and static display during the five-day air show at IAF's Yelahanka air base on the city's outskirts.
Dassault test pilot Squadron Leader Brocard Mickael is at the controls to demonstrate the strike power of Rafale used by the FAF.