The central government has turned down the military’s request to expand the acquisition of 36 fighter planes from Dassault Aviation SA to plug vital gaps, officials said, nudging it to accept an indigenous combat plane 32 years in the making.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision, in line with his Make-in-India policy to encourage domestic industry, is a blow for not only the French manufacturer but also others circling over the Indian military aviation market worth billions of dollars.
The push for India’s struggling Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) also comes at a time when the air force is at its weakest operational strength since the 1962 war against China, which is causing anxiety within military circles.
The air force wanted the government to clear an additional 44 Rafale medium multirole aircraft on top of the 36 that Modi announced during a visit to Paris this year that are to be bought off-the-shelf to meet its urgent requirements.
But a defence ministry official said that defence minister Manohar Parrikar had told the air force that there weren’t enough funds to expand the Rafale acquisition and that it must induct an improved version of the indigenous Tejas-Mark 1A.
An independent investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India into the LCA programme identified 53 “shortfalls” in the plane. In a report in May, the auditor said that the plane wasn’t as light as promised, the fuel capacity and speed were lower than required and there were concerns about safety.