The Indian Air Force (IAF) is close to signing a contract with Dassault Aviation for the acquisition of 36 Rafale multi-role combat aircraft.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested France to supply the aircraft in fly-away condition under a government-to-government agreement during his visit to the country, to help address critical operational necessity of fighter jets in India.

Modi was quoted by Reuters as saying: "Our civil servants will discuss (terms and conditions) in more detail and continue the negotiations."

In January 2012, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) selected Rafale for the long-awaited medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract, which is expected to be worth more than $20bn.

Under the contract, Dassault was to supply 126 Rafales to IAF, with the first 18 jets to be manufactured in France from the second quarter of 2015 onwards, while the remaining 108 were to be locally built following a technology transfer to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

"Under the contract, Dassault was to supply 126 Rafales to IAF, with the first 18 jets to be manufactured in France from the second quarter of 2015 onwards."

However, an agreement could not be reached due to disagreements over Dassault’s refusal to provide guarantees for the fighters built in India.

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Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said: "Just as we are delivering the first upgraded Mirage 2000, I am delighted by the decision of the Indian Authorities which gives a new impetus to our partnership for the next decades and comes within the scope of the strategic relationship gathering France and India."

While Modi requested for the planes to be supplied as soon as possible, Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the first aircraft would be delivered only after two and a half years.

Parrikar commented: "Fly-away means not tomorrow, it has to be designed as per India’s need, plus there is a requirement of working out the price."

The new MMRCA aircraft is expected to serve as the mainstay of the IAF fighter aircraft fleet for the next 40 years and will replace its existing fleet of MiG variants.

The Rafale is powered by two SNECMA M88 engines. It is a delta-wing multi-role jet fighter designed to conduct air-to-air combat, reconnaissance flights and nuclear bombing missions.

The aircraft is capable of carrying anti-ship and air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. It is in use with the French Navy and Air Force, and has also been ordered by Egypt.

Image: An impression of Rafale multi-role fighter flying near Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Photo: courtesy of © Dassault Aviation – PEMA.