AERO INDIA: French minister defends Rafale's Aero India no-show

By Andrew Doyle

French minister of state for defence Jean-Marie Bockel has defended the country's failure once again to deploy any Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter aircraft to participate in the Aero India airshow, blaming operational requirements in Afghanistan.

The Rafale is in competition with five European, Russian and US fighter types to meet the Indian Air Force's lucrative 126-aircraft medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) requirement.

"First of all, Rafale will be on display in Le Bourget [at the 2009 Paris Air Show] and will be available for those who want to test it," says Bockel, speaking at Aero India 2009 in Bangalore.

"Number two, all the Rafales that could have been sent to India for this airshow are presently in operation in the fight in Afghanistan," he adds. "I was there personally last week, and they are giving the coalition very efficient and very appreciated support and all the members of the coalition and the Afghan government itself are recognising this fact, because Rafale is a very flexible plane able to carry out several missions."

Also absent from the show - being held at Yelahanka air force base near Bangalore - is the Saab Gripen. Company officials point out that the Gripen was the only European MMRCA contender to take part in the last Aero India show in 2007, and add that the aircraft will be in India in a couple of months' time for air force flight evaluations.

Present at the show are several Lockheed Martin F-16s (including two UAE Block 60 F-16Fs), a pair of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, three German air force Eurofighter Typhoons and a single Russian MiG-35.

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