India plays down prospect of early Rafale fighter deal

India's defence minister played down on Wednesday the prospects of a speedy conclusion to contract negotiations with France's Dassault Aviation for the acquisition of 126 Rafale fighter jets.

Asked about recent reported comments from a senior air force figure that the deal might be signed by March, A. K. Antony replied that the contract had to go through numerous stages of scrutiny.

"How can I set a deadline?" Antony told reporters. "The process is on."

He said he could not interfere with the Contract Negotiation Committee, which is reviewing the $12 billion contract designed to bolster India's ageing air defences.

After this, it will pass through another "four to five mechanisms" before being elevated to the defence and finance ministries and ultimately the cabinet, he explained.

"Each body is interested to scrutinise at various phases. It is up to them," Antony said, adding that India's strict procurement process designed to eliminate corruption was being followed.

India chose privately-owned Dassault in January 2012 for exclusive negotiations for the aircraft, but successive deadlines to complete one of the world's biggest defence contracts have slipped by.

The chances of meeting a target to conclude the huge and complicated production-sharing agreement this year appear to be dwindling, with India expected to hold elections in the first half of next year.

Earlier this month Air Marshal S. Sukumar, deputy chief of air staff, was reported to have said that the deal would be signed within the current financial year.

by Hossam EZZEDINE © 2013 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Oct 30, 2013