Mumbai: The centre on Thursday said that it has withdrawn the multi-billion dollar tender to buy 126 fighter jets for which France’s Dassault Aviation’s Rafale was selected in 2012.

While floating the tender, the defence ministry had allocated 42,000 crore for the purchase, making it India’s single largest defence deal. The fighter jets were supposed to replace Indian Air Force’s ageing MiG-21s.

“The RFP (request for proposal) issued earlier for procurement of 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) has been withdrawn. In this multi-vendor procurement case, the Rafale aircraft met all the performance characteristics stipulated in the RFP during the evaluation conducted by Indian Air Force," defence minister Manohar Parrikar said in written reply to the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

The decision follows the government-to-government deal struck by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation SA during his visit to France in April. Modi’s move cut short the lengthy arms procurement process that was stuck in talks with Dassault Aviation since 2012.

The original plan was to buy 18 jets off the shelf and manufacture the remaining 108 in India by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) under a technology transfer deal. But the talks did not make headway over issues of pricing and also Dassault’s reluctance to stand guarantee for the jets built by HAL.

The tender for the procurement of 126 MMRCA was issued in 2007 to six vendors—Russia’s MIG-35 (Russian Aircraft Corp. MiG), Sweden’s JAS-39 (Saab AB), Dassault Rafale, F-16 Falcon (Lockheed Martin Corp.) of the US, Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon (made by a consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies).

Initially the deal value was about $10 billion, but it rose to more than $20 billion by 2015, according to a PTI report.

Parrikar said in view of the critical operational necessity for MMRCA, India would like to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible.

“The two leaders agreed to conclude an inter-governmental agreement for supply of the aircraft on terms that would be better than conveyed by Dassault Aviation as part of a separate process under way. The delivery would be in a time frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF; and that the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by IAF, and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France," Parrikar said.

On 21 July, Mint reported that India has started talks to fix the terms and conditions to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets.

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