India trying for optimal deal on Rafale jets: Parrikar

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday admitted that the Rafale fighter aircraft deal was going slow, but suggested this was because India was trying to get a "good deal".

"We are definitely very serious about the Rafale deal, though I agree the speed is not enough, it should soon come to conclusion," Parrikar said at a press conference at the Defexpo being held in Goa.

He said "money" was the hurdle, and added, "We are trying to get a good deal."

Rafale is a multi-role twin-engine aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation of France. The initial plans were to buy 126 Rafale jets, but the deal did not go through, after which a government-to-government contract was signed almost a year ago to buy 36 jets off the shelf.

The minister also brushed aside the recent statement of Vice Chief of Air Staff B S Dhanoa, slated to be there next air chief, that the Indian Air Force does not have the numbers to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan.

He said France and India would ''very soon'' conclude the Rafale deal and added, ''I am not putting a timeline because ultimately money is a problem and we should get a good deal.''

In April last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced India would go for a government-to-government deal with France for purchasing the fighter planes. But a final contract in this regard is yet to be signed. The sticking point is the price of the aircraft.

It is said the 36 aircraft, along with missile systems and support, will cost around Rs65,000 crore but India is looking at buying them for about Rs59,000 crore.

Asked about Dhanoa's comment, Parrikar said India is ''quite well prepared''.

''Preparedness is not necessarily decided on strength. It also depends on many other capacities, beyond fighter aircraft also,'' he said.

Talking about the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the minister said there is a ''difference in perception of the border''.

On his ministry's annual report that said China's assertiveness along the LAC has increased, he said, ''Assertiveness is existing but I don't think we are saying that we are not assertive. We are also assertive.

''Our assertiveness has increased but we feel that solutions could be found by mechanism which the two countries work out.''

He also said that confidence building measures like setting up of hotlines and new border meeting points were ''providing results''.

The Indian Air Force at present has 33 operational squadrons, against a sanctioned strength of 39.5.

The IAF is also awaiting the delivery of its first squadron of indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft.