With the selection of the Dassault Aviation’s Rafale combat aircraft in the biggest defence deal worth roughly $ 11 billion for Indian Air force (IAF), the French firm Thales also stands to gain a substantial chunk of the deal. French firm Thales will stand to gain 25 percent of the value of the MMRCA contract since it will supply the active electronic array radar and onboard electronics. Besides the MMRCA, the Mirage fighters upgrade deal will also involve French giants Dassault and Thales besides European consortium MBDA.
The French major Thales has been actively involved with Dassault Aviation on the Rafale aircraft team. According to Thales, the firm provides systems and equipment that amount to quarter of the total value of each multi-medium role combat aircraft (MMRCA). While the Rafale aircraft for the IAF will be fitted with the Thales RBE2 radar, the French firm is also developing an RBE2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) variant. The RBE2 AESA-equipped Rafale has been tested and the radar has fulfilled the mandates laid down by the French defense procurement agency (DGA).
Besides the radars, Thales is also responsible for the primary production and integration of the Spectra electronic warfare system for the Rafale combat aircraft. The Spectra will provide identification, location, jamming, and decoying against a wide range of electromagnetic, infra-red, and laser threats. The Damocles multi-function targeting pod which gives the Rafale fighter day and night, all-weather, laser-guided weapon capabilities is also a Thales product. The Damocles provides a dynamic air defence capability with its laser and high-resolution imagery. According to sources, a part of the Rafale MMRCA may be equipped with these pods.
While the Indo-French defence cooperation has been steadily on the rise, the $ 11 billion MMRCA contract for the French fighter plane Rafale will lend renewed vigour in their interactions. While the French have not only won the biggest defence deal in the world ousting the Russians and Americans, they have three major ongoing defence projects with India which includes nearly $ 5.2 billion deal for six Scorpene submarines, the $ 1.32 billion upgrade deal for 51 Mirage-2000s and the Mica air-to-air missiles worth $1.24 billion for the updated Mirages.
Besides these three mega defence deals with France, another major project being negotiated is the joint development and manufacturing of the Maitri, the Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SR-SAM) and the Kaveri engine project in the future. France is also offering technology transfer to India to build the Kaveri 9-ton thrust jet engine. The French also hope to bag the contract for six additional submarines as a follow-up on the Scorpene submarine deal. It may be noted that France was the only major Western country that decided not to impose sanctions on India after the 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests.
There is considerable scope for Indo-French defense relationship in the future since the $11 billion MMRCA deal will entail defence interactions for decades ahead. There will be upgrades, maintenance and supply of spares which will add to the MMRCA contract value. Added to this is the offset obligation of 50 per cent of the contract whose investment in the local industry will enable India’s self-reliance in the defence sector.