After three years of fruitless negotiations for the purchase of U.S. P-3 Orion planes, the Indian Navy has turned to France’s Dassault Aviation to fill its maritime patrol aircraft requirement.
A Dassault delegation last week gave a presentation to Navy officials here on the new Falcon 900 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), which is based on the company’s Falcon business jet, a senior Navy official said.
The presentation comes ahead of the March 19-29 visit to the United States by Adm. Arun Prakash, Indian Navy chief.
Saint Cloud-based Dassault has offered the Falcon 900 MPA for $45 million per plane, an Indian Defence Ministry official said, compared with the $45 million per-plane price tag Lockheed Martin wants for a second-hand P-3C.
The Indian government has been negotiating with the U.S. Navy to buy eight P-3Bs that would be upgraded to the C version. Indian pilots have flight tested P-3Bs and carried out a surveillance mission during an Indo-U.S. naval exercise in southern India last year.
The Indian Navy official said the pilots in their internal report to superiors deemed the aircraft’s performance satisfactory.
The Defence Ministry official, however, said the quality of the defense system is not the only criteria for choosing an aircraft, noting that assurances of spare parts and service support are key considerations.
Indian pilots have not flown the new Falcon 900, but Dassault has offered to allow them to fly the Falcon business plane, the Defence Ministry official said.
A Dassault executive here said the Falcon 900 MPA will be able to fulfill the needs of the Indian Navy, and Dassault will be able to meet the long-term requirements as far as spare parts are concerned.
A Dassault executive in France confirmed a presentation on the Falcon was made to Indian officials.
The Navy has been frantically hunting for maritime surveillance aircraft since two of its Il-38 aircraft crashed in an accident in October 2002. The aging fleet of three Russian-made Il-38 and eight Tu-142 maritime surveillance aircraft must be replaced. A midlife upgrade plan for the Tu-142s is in limbo because of a price dispute with Russian arms export firm Rosoboronexport.
Sources in the Ministry of Defence said the Falcon 900 may be the way to go, as India-U.S. ties have been strained lately over the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline deal.
In addition, the sources said, there is a division among military planners here over the purchase of P-3 Orions because Pakistan has acquired two P-3s, and acquisition of a different maritime surveillance aircraft would be a better choice.