Rafale jets, S-400 missile system crucial to India’s air defence, says IAF chief

Indian Air Force chief BS Dhanoa on Wednesday firmly backed the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal, saying the fighters would significantly enhance the IAF’s capabilities at a time when India’s two nuclear-armed adversaries (China and Pakistan) are swiftly modernising their air forces. Such emergency procurements have been made under government-to-government agreements in the past, too, he said. “By providing the Rafale and S-400 (air defence missile systems, which are being bought from Russia), the government is strengthening the IAF to counter the shortfall of our depleting numbers,” he said.

Dhanoa said different governments of the day had ordered two squadrons each of MiG-23s, Mirage-2000s and MiG-29s for the IAF in response to Pakistan upgrading its air combat capabilities since 1983.

Addressing a seminar, IAF Force Structure: 2035, he said, “These procurements were made under the umbrella of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA).” The air chief marshal stressed such deals speed up procurement and are the quickest route to upgrading operational capabilities. The Opposition has sharply attacked the government over its decision to order two Rafale squadrons (36 planes) through a government-to-government deal with France by scrapping the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft in a deal where 18 would be brought outright and 108 assembled in India by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. India and France signed the deal in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest a worrying slide in the IAF’s capabilities.

Dhanoa said India has to match the force levels of its adversaries so that it can fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan. “What we do not have are the numbers…Even when we do have 42 fighter squadrons, we will be below the combined numbers of the two regional adversaries,” the air chief said. The count of India’s fighter squadrons has reduced to 31 compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units. Dhanoa said India needed to induct modern fighters to “win the high-end fight” and the proposed induction of high-end fighters (Rafale) fitted the bill.

The government’s decision to enter a $8.7 billion deal with France to buy the 36 Rafale warplanes was announced in 2015. The deal has become controversial with the opposition, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is ₹1,670 crore for each, three times the ₹526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. The NDA government has not disclosed details of the price, but former defence minister Manohar Parrikar previously said the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not viable. The UPA was not able to close the deal till 2014, over discussions on pricing of items not included in the bid. The NDA has said that the current deal also includes customised weaponry. The deal has become controversial over the fact that one of the offset deals is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress says the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed to provide Ambani the opportunity. The government and Reliance Group have denied this.

First Published: Sep 12, 2018 23:39 IST

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