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Indian Air Force To Buy 126 Rafale Jets

Tue, 01/31/2012 - 4:10am
Nirmala George, Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — India has decided to buy 126 French-made Rafale combat aircraft for the Indian air force, clinching a massive $11 billion defense deal, a top government official said Tuesday.

The French aviation company Dassault snapped up the $11 billion deal after emerging with the lowest bid in a two-way competition against the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, the official said.

The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters about the sensitive defense deal.

Planes from Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin of the United States and from Russian and Swedish makers were dropped from consideration earlier.

The deal is the 1st foreign deal for Dassault's Rafale fighter jets.

India, the world's biggest arms importer, is being wooed by major international arms manufacturers as it replaces its obsolete Soviet-era weapons.

Eighteen fighter aircraft will be delivered in "fly away" condition within 36 months and the remaining 108 are to be built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. through technology transfers.

Defense ministry experts were still fine-tuning pricing details, including the cost of on-board weaponry and royalties for producing the aircraft in India.

Olivier Dassault, a French lawmaker and the son of Groupe Dassault chairman Serge Dassault, said the deal was very good news for the French aviation industry.

"It's a program on which more than 500 companies are cooperating," he said. "It's a victory for all these small- and medium-sized, high-tech companies who take part in building the most beautiful airplane in the world."

The French have for years been trying to get an export deal. Just last month, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet warned the Rafale program could be stopped if foreign buyers don't materialize.

Longuet maintained that the Rafale is an "excellent plane" but acknowledged it is handicapped by its price, which is higher than its U.S. rival.

The Rafale, in service for the French Air Force since 2006, has been flying air support roles in Afghanistan since 2007, and was a big part of the NATO air campaign against Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya in 2011.

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