The government does not seem keen to place a follow-on order to buy twin-engine Rafale fighter planes made by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation even as the Indian Air Force (IAF) faces a depletion of its fleet.

The Indian government signed a contract to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets in fly-away condition on September 23 for a whopping $8.8 billion. The original plan was to buy 126 Rafale jets. However, the plan was trimmed owing to the cost of each aircraft and only 36 were bought after protracted negotiations with France.

As a result, it is now unlikely that the government will place any further orders to buy these expensive planes even though it needs additional aircraft, sources in the Defence Ministry told BusinessLine .

“Follow on orders for the Rafale are a big question mark. Where is the money going to come from? There are much cheaper options available,” said a senior official.

At present, IAF has 34 squadrons out of the 42 required to guard the skies. This is the lowest count for the IAF in the last decade. Each squadron consists of 18 aircraft. Apart from this, 11 squadrons consisting of MiG-21s, are looking at retirement, which will pose an additional challenge.

So, the demand for fighter jets remains. Even though India chose to buy only 36 Rafales after cancelling the plan to acquire 126, the original requirement still remains.

However, sources said the government was now focused on acquiring single-engine fighter jets, the deal size of which is around $12 billion. The frontrunners in this are Saab’s Gripen and Lockheed Martin’s F-16.

Dassault Aviation has already made it clear to the government that it will not be able to go for full transfer of technology and create an industrial ecosystem by manufacturing the planes here under the ‘Make in India’ programme unless it is given additional orders.

Dassault eyes carriers

However, sources also said that Dassault Aviation is now lobbying with the government on the Indian Navy’s plan to purchase 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters.

But, it seems the MoD will not be opting for Rafale due to its high price. As a result, Boeing and MiG are now eyeing the deal. Boeing has offered its F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is being used by the US Navy.

According to sources, the cost of maintaining Rafale jets is also higher than other aircraft offering a similar platform. Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO, Dassault Aviation had said on the sidelines of the Aero India show last month that the company would set up a plant to manufacture the fighter jets in India only for an order of more than a 100 jets.