Amid the raging controversy over the Rafale fighter jet deal, IAF Chief B S Dhanoa on Wednesday justified the procurement citing precedents when such “emergency” acquisitions were made to meet operational requirements and to fill critical gaps.
He made this observation in the backdrop of questions raised over the decision to buy only 36 jets against the original proposal of 126 aircraft. His comments also come a day after BJP rebels Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha alleged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “personal culpability” in the Rafale deal which they dubbed as the country’s “biggest defence scam.”
Dhanoa asserted that earlier such deals too followed the Government-to-Government route to meet security challenges. The IAF Chief said three such deals also involved procuring two squadrons(one squadron has 16-18 jets) like the Rafale contract.
The Air Force is reeling under a severe shortage of fighter aircraft at a time India faces security challenges from two nuclear-powered neighbours, he said during a seminar on IAF’s force restructuring adding the purchase of 36 Rafale jets will help the force deal with the situation.
“Whenever the Government felt the air power element of the defence forces is likely to be in a disadvantageous position, it has gone in for emergency purchases of the aircraft under the umbrella of the inter-Governmental agreement,” Dhanoa said. “The history is that the Government had undertaken emergency purchase of fighter aircraft on several occasions in the past,” he said.
In 1983, when Pakistan inducted the first lot of F-16s, India got two squadrons of Mig-23MF air defence interceptors from Soviet Union. Later, in 1985 India also got two squadrons of Mirage-2000 and also two squadrons of Mig-29s from Soviet Union. It is pertinent to note that all those procurements are for two squadrons of aircraft and under the umbrella of Inter-Governmental Agreement(IGA), Dhanoa said.
Justifying the decision to go for two squadrons of Rafale through the government to government route, the IAF Chief said acquisitions under IGA are “faster” and the quickest means of achieving operational capability of the IAF.
Elaborating upon the threat perception, he said the force currently has 31 squadrons of fighter jets against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons. “Even when we do have 42 squadrons, we will be below the combined numbers of two of our regional adversaries,” he said in obvious reference to China and Pakistan. The IAF chief also pointed out that India’s neighbours are not sitting idle and countries like China are modernising its air force significantly. China has approximately 1,700 fighter aircraft of which 800 are fourth generation jets. “A large number of these can be expected to be brought against us in the Tibet Autonomous Region in case of hostilities,” he said in his address.
The previous UPA Government was negotiating a deal with French aerospace conglomerate Dassault , the makers of the Rafale, for procuring 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). However, the deal could not be sealed.
The NDA Government inked a Government-to-Government deal with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore on September 23, 2016. The delivery of the aircraft will start from September 2019. The Congress has alleged financial irregularities in the deal and questioning the decision to buy 36 jets as against the projected need for 126 planes.
Dhanoa also said by providing the Rafale and S-400 air defence missile systems, the Government is strengthening the IAF to counter the shortfalls of “our” depleting numbers. The S-400 Triumf proposed deal is worth over Rs 45,000 crore and the contract with Russia is likely to inked by this year end.