With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big announcement in Paris that New Delhi would purchase 36 Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters off-the-shelf (prêt-à-porter, if you will) in a government-to-government deal, the future of the $20 billion tender for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) that was being negotiated between France’s Dassault Aviation and the Indian government fell into limbo. That ambiguity was resolved on Monday, three days after Modi’s announcement, when Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar clarified that the $20 billion tender would not move forward. Just like that, the “mother of all defense deals,” as India’s MMRCA project was known, was dead.
Though Parrikar avoided shutting the door on the project entirely, he emphasized that the Indian government would not move forward with those negotiations for the moment, suggesting that if New Delhi does purchase additional Rafales, it will do so in another government-to-government deal. His ministry’s official spokesperson, Sitanshu Kar, tweeted that the “[government-to-government] route [is] better than the [request for proposal] path for acquisition of strategic platforms.” Parrikar additionally said that the government’s decision to go with a direct purchase of 36 Rafale fighters was necessary, likening the deal to a breath of “oxygen” for India’s constrained air force.
Parrikar’s announcement is being read with a degree of trepidation in India’s strategic community. The government’s pragmatic decision to fulfill the Indian Air Force’s short-term need for a multi-role fighter is commendable, but, concurrently, the decision to scrap Dassault’s tender for the broader MMRCA contract is a set back for the Modi government’s bid to indigenize India’s defense production. With the deal announced in Paris, France yields nothing in the way of technology transfer.