French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will soon be in India to take forward the proposed direct sale of 36 Rafale fighters as well as witness the joint Varuna naval combat exercise that kicked off in the Arabian Sea on Thursday.
Defence ministry sources said Le Drian was "shortly" expected here to follow up on India's plan to go for direct purchase of 36 Rafales through a government-to-government deal, which was decided during the Modi-Hollande summit in Paris on April 10.
Though France has offered "better terms and conditions" for the 36 jets, the nitty-gritties of the proposed contract are yet to be worked out. "The actual contract inking may take some time," said a source.
As reported by TOI earlier, the government is now scrapping the deadlocked $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project for 126 jets, in which Rafale had emerged the winner in January 2012 after a hotly-contested open global competition. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said the acquisition of 126 Rafales would have been "financially a very steep slope to climb".
Incidentally, French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is now off the Goa coast for the Varuna exercise, is carrying its complement of Rafale fighters as well as strike aircraft Super Etendard, E2C Hawkeye AWACS and helicopters.
While France has also deployed two destroyers, Chevalier Paul and Jean de Vienne, and tanker Meuse for the exercise, India is fielding aircraft carrier INS Viraat, destroyer INS Mumbai, stealth frigate INS Tarkash, guided-missile frigate INS Gomati, submarine INS Shankul and tanker INS Deepak, among others.
"The scope of the exercise, from April 23 to May 2, includes the entire gamut of maritime operations from aircraft carrier operations, anti-submarine warfare drills to maritime interdiction and multi-ship replenishment," said an officer.