OUTGOING IAF chief Arup Raha on Wednesday said that while acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets was a good move, it was not enough. He said India needs about 200-250 more such fighters to maintain its combat edge over adversaries. Terming Rafale as an excellent aircraft, Raha, who is set to retire on December 31, said, “It is tremendously capable in all its role. It is a multi-role aircraft and can be used very effectively. It can prove its worth in any situation.”
“But we have just ordered 36 aircraft and we require more aircraft in this middle weight category to give entire spectrum of capability,” he said, adding that a void has been created in the past because of obsolescence and many of the squadrons will be past their use-by date. “We have already used them for four decades plus. It is time to retire them and get new aircraft… Over the next 10 years, we must have 200-250 aircraft. It has to be balanced out. In the heavy weight spectrum, we have enough. But in the medium weight category, we need to have more. Yes, about 200 will be very good,” he said.
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The Air Chief Marshal also rued that the tender for the much-needed “force multiplier” mid air refuellers had to be withdrawn. He said a fresh tender is in the offing and the procurement will be sped up. Underlining that the teeth of any air force is the combat fleet, Raha said the country needs another production line besides the Tejas. He explained that the strength sanctioned by the government is 42 squadrons, “which was a numerical value”. He said what is needed “is also a capability mix”. Raha said India has enough heavy weight fighters — the Su30 MKI — which will last for another 30-40 years. He said the light weight spectrum would be served by the 123 Tejas light combat aircraft ordered by the IAF.
‘Former chief Tyagi, a family member of IAF’
On the arrest of former IAF chief S P Tyagi in connection with the AgustaWestland scam, he said, “A former Air Force chief is like a family member, extended family member. If anybody in my family goes through a rough patch, I think we should stand by that person. And if the charges are proved, then we have no sympathy for him. Whatever charges are proved, whatever convictions are there, we will abide by it.”
Raha said every decade has its own share of defence scandals but rarely something comes out of them. “Despite investigation, not much could be achieved by the investigating agencies to pin down people who are involved in corrupt practices,” he said. Answering questions on corruption in defence deals, Raha said, “If these corruption charges are proved, it is bad for the armed forces, or whoever is involved. It is not just the armed forces who are involved in the procurement. There are so many agencies who are involved. Therefore, you cannot pin the blame on one particular organisation or service.”
Raha argued that the procurement process in the IAF is more stringent than any other service. “We are very well-trained professionals who deal with acquisition or procurements. We have test pilots, test engineers, it is not not so for other services, I can tell you that,” he said.
‘Principle of seniority has merits, demerits’
On Lt Gen Bipin Rawat superceding two seniors to become Army chief, Raha said there were merits and demerits to the principle of seniority when it comes to selecting service chiefs. He said that since a decision had been taken, everyone should strengthen Rawat’s hands. “We have had selections, deep selections based on merit or based on whatever consideration of the government in power… They have taken decisions in the past as well, having over ruled the seniority principle,” he said.