NEW DELHI: India has departed from convention, and many here who say from the spirit, of Republic Day by introducing a French component in the Parade. French soldiers will march down Rajpath, with President Francois Hollande as the Chief Guest, two days after India and France ink the long delayed Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the supply of 36 Dassault Rafale fighters in flyaway condition.

France is the flavour of January for India. A eight day counter-terrorism joint exercise, Shakti 2016, is currently on between the soldiers of both countries in Rajasthan. A French contingent of 56 personnel of the 35th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Armoured Brigade, which had taken part in the Afghan ‘terror’ war, are taking part in this exercise and some of them will fly down to march in India’s Republic Day parade.

The vexed negotiations over the Rafale deal seem to have been resolved with January 24 fixed as signing day. Jane’s reported that all negotiations and formalities for the procurement of the 36 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) have been completed at a cost of about 9 billion US Dollars.

“ Deliveries would begin 36 months after the deal was signed and be completed within 24-30 months, but IAF sources said delivery schedules could be expedited. Dassault presently produces around 11 Rafales annually, but plans on increasing this to 18 fighters to meet orders from Egypt and Qatar for 24 fighters each and the IAF’s 36 platforms. Industry sources told IHS Jane’s that the Rafale weapons package, sourced largely from MBDA, would cost another USD1.5 billion and would only be concluded later,” Jane’s reported.

Interestingly, India will be paying 10.5 billion dollars now for 36 Rafale fighter jets, as against the contract price of approximately 21 billion dollars for 126 aircraft. It might be recalled that the MMRCA tender was bagged by Dassault Rafale in 2007 amongst six contenders, and has been plagued by delays since then. Hard nosed negotiations failed to break the deadlock during the tenure of the Manmohan Singh government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to France last year, in a dramatic announcement, said that India would now purchase 36 Rafale fighters in ‘ready to fly’ condition as against the 18 to be imported under the earlier understanding, with 108 to be built locally.

At the time questions about the deal per se remained unanswered with even Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar groping in the dark for information, and contradicting himself several times in the process. However, it finally appears that the initial deal has been struck down and of the 126 India has now settled for 36 Rafale fighter jets. The negotiations for this as well have taken several months and have only just been concluded on the eve of President Hollande’s visit here.

The Indian Air Force is in dire need of aircraft with Jane’s reporting that the IAF’s fighter squadrons have declined to 35 from a sanctioned strength of 42; these will be further reduced further to 25 squadrons by 2022, after 10-11 squadrons of 180-200 legacy MiG-21 and MiG-27 variants retire.