NEW DELHI — India is unlikely to acquire additional Rafale fighter jets because the Indian Air Force (IAF) is "fully satisfied" following the recently signed $8.8 billion deal to purchase 36 of the fighters, according to a source with the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD).

"[N]o additional purchase is being contemplated," the MoD source said of the aircraft.

The Sept. 23 contract between India and France has no optional clause for additional fighters, which would mean any additional purchases would have to be negotiated with a fresh price, the source added.

However, Amit Cowshish, a former financial adviser for the MoD, said the "absence of [an] option[al] clause does not rule out the possibility of acquiring more of the same aircraft," adding that "even a separate contract can be negotiated at the same price."

"Indian Air Force just has 33 squadrons as against the felt need of 42 to 45 squadrons. This strength will go down further as 10-11 squadrons are scheduled to be phased out in the next few years. It is in this

background that the possibility of new Rafale fighters aircraft assumes significance," Cowshish said.

Although there could be a future need for more fighters, Cowshish said: "It seems unlikely that the entire requirement will be made up by acquiring Rafale aircraft, for had that been the intention India would not have gone in for acquisition of just two squadrons at this stage."

At an Oct. 5 news conference here, Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said:  "Any air force would be proud to have aircraft of the Rafale class, which is in the mid-weight category." On the possibility of buying additional Rafale, Raha said: "A decision on more numbers of Rafale jets will be taken in the near future, which would be based on its capability."

However, Vivek Rae, the MoD's former director general of acquisition, said that "given the depleted strength of IAF squadrons, it is clear that IAF will have to purchase more Rafale aircraft in [the] future. The quantum will depend on availability of funds."

"The truncated Rafale deal is the direct outcome of budgetary constraints," Rae added. India had chose to buy only 36 Rafale after cancelling the program to acquire 126 Rafale

IAF officials, however, say adding additional types of fighter aircraft to the fleet would not be as economical as purchasing additional Rafale jets.

"It is obvious that the long-term, per-aircraft maintenance costs of a small fleet of aircraft will always be higher than for larger numbers, whether there are life cycle guarantees or otherwise," said Subhash

Bhojwani, a retired IAF air marshal and defense analyst.

IAF currently has seven aircraft types: Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Mirage 2000, Jaguar, MiG-29, MiG-27, MiG-21 and homemade Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The Rafale will be the eighth type.

"With no clear indication as of now that additional Rafale would be bought, a window is open wide for the acquisition of another type of fighter," another MoD source said.

Daljit Singh, a retired IAF air marshal and defense analyst said: "IAF requirement was for 126 aircraft and that requirement still holds. Also, the defence minister has announced that the government would earmark one fighter by the end of the year that would be manufactured in India. Whether it would be Rafale or not is not clear as yet."


Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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