Rafale fighter deal: Parrikar in talks with France's Le Drian

India's defence minister Manohar Parrikar is scheduled to hold talks today with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to salvage the deal for 126 Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets, which has been stalled on the issue of local assembly of the aircraft.

Le Drian landed in New Delhi on Monday; reports suggest his visit is particularly for the finalisation of what would be the biggest military deal in recent times.

Dassault has been reluctant to provide guarantees for aircraft that are produced in India, considering the dismal track record of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which under the original deal will assemble the fighters locally.

 Under the terms of the contract, 18 of the Rafale planes would be sold ready to fly while the rest would be assembled at the HAL plant in Bengaluru.

India insists that Dassault take full responsibility for the aircraft produced locally, a defence ministry official told Reuters on Monday ahead of the talks.

 Officials say negotiations have been deadlocked for a year.  "There is only one item on the agenda, the Rafale deal," the official said.                    

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said last week that the government would decide on the fate of the Rafale deal only after the ministry's contract negotiations committee submitted its report in early March. (See: Rafale fighter deal won't be finalised before March: Parrikar).

 The Rafale was picked in 2012 over rival offers from the United States, Europe and Russia for a deal initially worth $10 billion but now estimated to have jumped to $20 billion (over Rs1.24 lakh crore) (See: Dassault's Rafale bags IAF's $10-billion fighter jet deal).

 France has said it will help HAL stick to delivery schedules, but that it cannot give guarantees for production of the aircraft made at a facility over which it has no administrative or expert control.

The Indian defence official said a French delegation of company officials had held talks over the past several weeks to try and find a way around the issue of guarantees. He said he did not have more details.

The development comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's scheduled visit to Paris in April, which is aimed at boosting strategic and defence partnership.