New Delhi: French aerospace and defence major Dassault may be back in contention for the Indian Air Force's 126 medium range multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender with its fighter offering, the Rafale. Reports suggest that a high-level delegation from France will meet officials in the defence ministry on Friday to offer technical clarifications sought for by the IAF with respect to the tender.
Earlier, reports had suggested that the Rafale had been booted out of the race for the massive $11 billion tender as it failed to provide necessary technical information as required by the Request for Proposal (RFP).
The French delegation, to be led by Jacques Lajugi, head of France's Air International Development, will call on defence secretary Vijay Singh.
Currently defence contractors from the United States, Russia, Sweden and a pan-European Eurofighter consortium have submitted bids for the IAF contract. The companies involved are the Russian MiG RAC, American Boeing and Lockheed Martin corporations, the Swedish Saab and the EADS-led Eurofighter consortium. Rafale was Dassaults' contender in the race.
Reports emanating a month or so back suggested that the technical evaluation committee had ousted Dassault as it apparently failed to provide necessary information as required under the provisions of the RFP. This was denied by the company.
Indian authorities may also have been peeved by the lackadaisical attitude displayed by the French. Unlike other manufacturers it is the only one that has failed to bring down its aircraft to India for display or first-hand introduction to IAF fliers even once.
At the two AeroIndia Yelahanka shows, hosted in 2007 and 2009, all contending aircraft, such as the MiG-35, Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16, Saab Gripen JAS-39 and the Eurofighter Typhoon made an appearance and allowed IAF fliers to familiarise themselves with their offerings. The only missing contender was Dassault and its Rafale.
''We are still preparing, actively, technology demonstrations for later this year and early next year,'' said Jean-Noel Stock, Thales's head of the Rafale programme. Thales is responsible for around a third of the weapons system onboard the Rafale.
However, reports now suggest that Dassault may have been provided the escape route it seeks as the report of the committee recommending its disqualification is yet to be perused by the Defence Procurement Board.
The committee report apparently points out that questions related to equipment and other add-ons that the IAF wants remained unanswered by the manufacturer. This discrepancy, apparently, has now been taken care of by the manufacturer.
Meanwhile, Dassault, Snecma and Thales are set to submit a best and final offer for Brazil's first tranche of 36-aircraft FX-2 requirement on 8 June. The French companies are facing off competition from the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Gripen NG.
"We are the only ones offering [to transfer] all equipment, including source codes," said Jean-NoŽl Stock. He said the French government had okayed Thales sharing source code with partners.
Brazil, India and Switzerland - where Rafale also is competing - would also receive the Thales AESA.
Thales has completed flight tests for its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which is now expected to equip the next batch of about 60 Rafales to be built for the French air force and navy. It will also be the baseline offering for other likely customers, such as Brazil, India and Switzerland.
The AESA system would offer an increase of more than 50% in detection range and reduced life-cycle costs, according to Thales. The design will not come under the ambit of US International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
Thales claims its AESA offering puts it ''clearly ahead of the other radar manufacturers in Europe." AESA technology is currently being pursued by EADS and Selex Galileo for the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen NG, respectively.
France has so far ordered 128 Rafales in three batches.
The AESA technology is expected to be cleared for service by late 2011 and enter air force use the following year, the company says. The AESA will be retrofitted on existing Rafale fighters.
Thales completed a concept demonstration phase in April using three prototype radars flown progressively on a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet, a modified Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter and the Rafale.