Bengaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi could be the first Indian Prime Minister to fly in a fighter jet. Hectic talks are under way between the ministry of defence, the Prime Minister’s Office and makers of French Dassault Rafale, which is the major contender for the long awaited Multi Medium Role Combat Aircraft deal worth over Rs 82,000 crore.
With the presence of French Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Laurent Fabius in New Delhi, Dassault Rafale has offered Modi a trip during the upcoming Aero India in Bengaluru, which will be inaugurated by the Prime Minister February 18, sources said.
“We are looking at the possibility of Mr Modi flying in a fighter jet. There are talks under way and it will be confirmed in a week,” government sources said.
Aviation experts have been demanding that the aircraft deal should be signed at the earliest to ensure right training for Indian Air Force pilots. Rafale was chosen to fill the gap between the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Sukhoi Su-30MKI.
The MMRCA deal has been delayed as the Indian government is worried about the escalating costs and some issues with the transfer of technology.
Dassault Rafale was chosen by the government and Indian Air Force after testing at least half-a- dozen fighter jets from the USA, Russia and Sweden.
In 2011, the government reduced the bidders to two fighters, Euro fighter aircraft Typhoon and Dassault Rafale.
In early 2012, the government announced that Dassault Rafale had won the contest because of its lower cost. “But today, the cost has become a major hurdle in sealing the deal. Contract negotiations are still under way and the French government is keen to clinch the deal,” an aviation expert said.
This is not the first time that a VIP is flying on a fighter jet. Industrialists like Ratan Tata and Bollywood stars like Shahid Kapoor have flown in the US-made F-16s during the previous Aero India events. In 2009, former Presidents of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil made history by flying in Sukhoi Su-30MKIs.
In 2003 it was Defence Minister George Fernandes who flew in a MiG-21 in an attempt to dispel apprehensions about the airworthiness of the aircraft.