India will only buy 36 Rafale fighter jets as they are “way too expensive”, the defence minister said Sunday, dashing lingering French hopes of a larger deal that has been years in the making.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the previous government’s plans to buy 126 of the fighter jets from French firm Dassault were “economically unviable and not required”.
“We are not buying the rest. We are only buying the… 36,” Parrikar told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
During a visit to France in April, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that New Delhi was ordering 36 of the “ready to fly” planes.
The deal — estimated to be worth five billion euros ($5.5 billion) — followed tortuous years-long negotiations on buying the jets.
But the purchase agreement fell a long way short of previous proposals for India to buy 126. Frustrating negotiations for that deal stalled over costs and assembly guarantees.
Parrikar has since played down expectations of a larger deal, but his comments on Sunday were some of his strongest yet, saying buying more of the jets would blow the defence ministry’s procurement budget.
“I also feel like having a BMW and Mercedes. But I don’t because I can’t afford it. First I can’t afford it and second I don’t need it,” Parrikar told PTI.
Parrikar said a committee set up to nail down details of purchasing the 36 would complete its work in the next two to three months.
India has in recent years launched a vast defence modernisation programme worth some $100 billion, partly to keep up with rival neighbours Pakistan and China.
Since coming to power one year ago, Modi’s government has approved a string of contracts for new military hardware that had stalled under the previous left-leaning Congress party.
Modi, a hardline nationalist premier, also wants to end India’s status as the world’s number one defence importer and to have 70 percent of hardware manufactured domestically by the turn of the decade.