France in new bid to nail fighter jet deal with India

France in new bid to nail fighter jet deal with India
A Rafale fighter jet prepares to land at the air base in Saint-Dizier February 13, 2015. France's President said Egypt would order 24 Rafale fighter jets, a naval frigate and related military equipment in a deal to be signed in Cairo on Monday worth more than 5 billion euros. The contract would make Egypt, aiming to upgrade its military hardware amid fears the crisis in neighbouring Libya could spill over, the first export customer for the warplane, built by Dassault Aviation.

NEW DELHI - France's defence minister will visit New Delhi this week in a fresh bid to nail a troubled deal to sell 126 Rafale fighter jets which has been snagged for three years and now faces new questions about its cost.

Jean-Yves Le Drian will meet his counterpart Manohar Parrikar and other officials on Monday and Tuesday to prevent the sale's collapse ahead of an upcoming visit to Paris by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

French company Dassault Aviation won the right in January 2012 to enter exclusive negotiations with India to supply 126 Rafale fighters, with experts saying a final deal could be worth $12 billion (S$16.3 billion).

The idea is for Dassault to supply 18 of the twin-engine fighters later this year while the remaining 108 would be made by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd under technology transfer agreements with India.

But negotiations have proved fraught, both under Modi's government and its Congress predecessor, while a committee which is looking into the deal has reportedly found that it was not the cheapest option.

France's defence ministry has said the visit will give the governments a chance to discuss "international affairs and defence industry issues", but there is little doubt Rafale will dominate proceedings.

Le Drian's visit comes barely two months after he also came to India for talks with Parrikar when they both agreed to push on with negotiations.

Modi's right-wing government, which won power in elections last May, has been blowing hot and cold about the progress of discussions.

A defence ministry spokesman said during Le Drian's visit in December that outstanding differences "would be resolved in a fast-track manner".

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