India's air force chief says French fighter jet deal close

NEW DELHI : India's air force chief has said conclusion of a $22 billion fighter jet deal with French company Dassault Aviation was imminent after missed deadlines and delays.
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha told an Indian newspaper that the military could not afford any more hold ups of the 2012 deal to supply 126 French-made Rafale fighters.
Raha said a deadline for finalisation of the deal had not been set but added "it's going to happen soon." He also appeared to throw cold water on attempts to re-enter the race for the giant contract by by a European consortium that makes the Eurofighter, a rival to the Rafale.
"It will not be appropriate to make any changes in the process," he said in an interview with the Hindustan Times newspaper published on Wednesday.
"The current government has set the pace of work and things are moving fast enough on the fighter deal."
The daily quoted a defence ministry official as saying "Rafale has run through the finish line." "It's too late in the day to parachute into the race. The door is closed," the unnamed official said.
Dassault won the right in 2012 to enter exclusive negotiations with India to supply 126 fighters after lodging a lower bid than Eurofighter for a tender with an estimated value of $12 billion.
Those negotiations have since been delayed, prompting Britain to raise the contract with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in July, holding out hope for the Eurofighter.
India's right-wing government, which swept to power in May, has pledged to streamline and speed up a major modernisation of the country's military, and has lifted a cap on foreign investment in defence.
India's defence procurement has traditionally been an opaque business, marred by postponements and repeated re-negotiations over cost.

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