Rafale deal is progressing, not bogged down: Indian minister

Paris, June 20 (IANS) The $10.4 billion contract for 126 multi-role medium range combat aircraft that India has awarded to French aircraft maker Dassault for its Rafale aircraft has not got bogged down in any controversy nor were certain issues holding it up, Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh has said.

"It is not stuck anywhere. It is the biggest deal of its kind in the world and, of course, a very complex one too. They are talking to HAL and the private sector companies in India as well; so it is progressing," Jitendra Singh told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the 50th Paris Air Show.

Rafale had last January emerged the winner of the Indian Air Force (IAF) tender, fighting off stiff competition from five other jets. Protracted price negotiations are currently under way as issues like lifecycle costs and transfer of technology terms need to be factored in.

Indian officials had often said they hoped to wrap up the deal in the 2012-13 fiscal that ended March 31. However, with less than a year to go for the general election, the issue is likely to be decided only by the new government. The elections are due in Arpil-May 2014 but could be advanced depending on the evolving political scenario.

According to Jitendra Singh, France and India "have been working on a relationship which is not only aimed at enhancing the capabilities of our defence forces but also helping build up capacity in our defence industry, in both the public and private sectors".

He said the focus of the Indian government was to push ahead with indigenous defence production, through both the public and private sectors.

"India has a great potential and could become a hub for defence production. We have the talent, we have the capabilities, now all we need is technology for that to happen. The ministry, in its 2013 Defence Procurement Policy, has taken the steps to facilitate the involvement of both the public and private sectors in defence production," he said.

The Paris Air Show, Jitendra Singh said, "has once again demonstrated that there is a great deal of enthusiasm not only among French companies but also among others around the world to work with India as they have realised that the country is one of the biggest markets for them globally".

"One of my key objectives during this visit is to meet various global defence companies and try and understand their problems and the roadblocks that they face in doing business with India so that the government can take appropriate steps to remove these," said Jitendra Singh, who visited the Paris Air Show on Wednesday, accompanied by a high-level team from his ministry.

"Another objective is to ensure that India gets the best of the technology that exists, through the transfer of technology route," he added.

The Paris Air Show "represents a great opportunity for all the participating countries and companies to meet their counterparts and partners and also for India, especially in terms of the France-India relationship which has clearly moved beyond the traditional buyer-seller level in the last few years," Jitendra Singh told IANS.

He visited some of the key traditional defence partners of India, including the European aerospace giant EADS, during his quick tour of arguably the world's largest air show.

Jitendra Singh would also be meeting French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian to discuss various dimensions of bilateral ties.

(Ranvir Nayar can be contacted at ranvir.mediaindia@gmail.com)

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