* Defence min source: Rafale jet is cheaper, preferred
* India cabinet must sign off on deal
By Manoj Kumar and Nigam Prusty
NEW DELHI, Jan 31 Dassault Aviation's
Rafale combat jet has undercut the Eurofighter
Typhoon, and the company is now in exclusive talks on the
multibillion-dollar deal to supply India with 126 planes,
government sources said on Tuesday.
"France's Dassault has emerged as the lowest bidder, and
further commercial negotiations will take place with the company
before signing a formal deal," one government source said.
The source said both companies had been informed.
The deal would be a huge shot in the arm for Dassault, which
has struggled to find a foreign buyer for the multi-role Rafale,
billed as one of the most effective fighters in the world but
also one of the most expensive.
The company's shares soared almost 21 percent on Tuesday.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony said earlier on Tuesday that no
deal would be signed before the end of March.
"It is a long process. The file has not come to my table,"
Antony said, adding that the finance ministry and a cabinet
panel headed by the prime minister had to look at any agreement
A defence ministry source said the life-time cost of the
tender including training and maintenance could reach $15
billion, above previous estimates of around $11 billion.
The source said the Rafale was preferred because of lower
costs, and the Indian airforce's familiarity with French
warplanes such as the Mirage.
"Unit-wise, the French plane is much cheaper than the
Eurofighter. Moreover, the Indian airforce, which is well
equipped with French fighters, is favouring the French," said
the source, who asked not be named.
In 2011, Dassault won a $1.4 billion contract to upgrade
India's Mirage fleet.
In December, France's defence minister Gerard Longuet warned
that Dassault would stop production of the Rafale in 2021 if it
did not win any export orders.
A deal in the works since 2008 to sell 60 fighters to the
United Arab Emirates hit a new snag last year when Abu Dhabi
Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed called Dassault's terms
"uncompetitive and unworkable".
The UAE has also sought details of the Typhoon, built by the
German and Spanish branches of EADS, Britain's BAE
Systems and Italy's Finmeccanica. American,
Russian and Swedish bids were rejected in April.