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Desert test for ‘Swiss knife’
- French minister to raise pitch for Rafale

New Delhi, June 5: The French foreign minister is likely to visit India later this month to raise the sales pitch for the Rafale fighter jet that the Indian Air Force is this week and the next engaging in war games over the Rajasthan desert.

The IAF had selected the Rafale from a competition of six aircraft in January 2012 for its medium multirole combat needs but negotiations have been continuing for more than two years now.

The “omnirole” Rafale is in India for the first time to participate in the exercise named “Garuda” but has been put through trials by the IAF earlier and was also exhibited in Bangalore.

“The Rafale is like a Swiss knife — it can do everything,” said France’s ambassador here as pilots of the French Armee de ’Air told Indian fighter pilots at the Jodhpur air force station of their experience in Operation Harmattan, the air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, and Op Mountezouma against militants in the African country Mali in 2012.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, No. 2 in the cabinet, is likely to visit the country at the head of a delegation that will seek to push a wide array of business deals with the Narendra Modi government, including the contract for the 126 Rafale aircraft.

The price of the IAF’s multirole combat aircraft contract, initially estimated to be about $10 billion, could now be nearly double that figure after forex fluctuations and inflation since the Rafale was selected.

Ambassador Francois Richier and the air force chiefs of India and France are slated to visit Jodhpur on Monday to see the fifth edition of the Garuda exercise. Four Rafale fighter jets from the 3/30 “Lorraine” squadron, based in Abu Dhabi, have flown to Jodhpur to participate in the drill.

The Indian Air Force has Sukhoi 30 Mki, MiG 27 and MiG 21 Bison aircraft flying with and flying against the Rafale in mock combat. The pilots of the French squadron have seen action over Libya and Mali, the French defence attaché here, Group Captain Benedict Smith, said.

Richier said the negotiations between the French company that makes the Rafale, Dassault Aviation, and the Indian defence ministry achieved a milestone this spring after finalising work-share arrangements between the vendor and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The Indian multirole fighter jet deal is one of the biggest military orders in the world today. Although the Rafale was selected for exclusive negotiations, its rivals — the makers of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F/A18 Superhornet, the Swedish Gripen and the Russian MiG corporation — are closely following the developments, ready to pitch in for the prize contract.