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With Rafale deal stuck, Eurofighter looks to swoop in

New Delhi: With the multi-billion dollar contract for Rafale jets caught in the doldrums, the UK yesterday hoped there would be an opportunity for the Eurofighter aircraft to get back into the race with a "very competitive bid".

However, the defence ministry here has made it clear that as per the Indian procurement rules, lateral entry is not allowed and the only way out if the negotiations with Rafale falls through is re-tendering.

"We are aware that the process of dealing with Dassault (the French manufacturer of Rafale) has not gone completely smoothly and there may be an opportunity for Eurofighter at some stage," British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, who arrived in India yesterday on a two-day visit, told reporters at a press conference here.

He said that if the opportunity does arise, Eurofighter has a "very competitive offer" to make. "We have been working very hard over the last couple of years to sharpen our aircraft to make sure that if the opportunity arises, we will be very well placed to bid," he said.

The British minister, however, made it clear that he has not raised the issue during his visit. "I would not raise it because we respect the Indian procurement process. It would be wrong and improper to raise it at this time," he said. The Rafale deal for 126 jets is estimated to cost over USD 20 billion over the next decade and is considered to be the biggest global defence tender.

India had chosen Dassault's Rafale over the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is built by a consortium of companies from the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. However, the final negotiations with Dassault have been stuck for the last three years. "We have to let the process run its course," Hammond said adding while noting that India's official position is that this competition has not been opened up.

"But of course, if progress is not made, we anticipate there might be a point where the competition is opened up again for other bidders," he said, adding that the UK is looking forward to that in order to have an opportunity to present Eurofighter's bid.

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