The turning of the MMRCA deal into a “government-to-government” negotiation, independent of the ongoing talks with Dassault Aviation, was being described on Saturday as a “political masterstroke” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Officials also revealed that a decision in this regard had been taken “weeks ago”.
“About two-three weeks ago, the decision went out of the ambit of the Defence Ministry. The file was being dealt with directly by the PMO,” said a source.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar described the agreement reached by Modi with French President Francois Hollande to deliver 36 Rafale aircraft in a fly-away condition as “oxygen” for the IAF. The aircraft would be delivered within two years, he said.
“This is a political master stroke. On one hand, it has served the purpose of the IAF by providing it two squadrons as a breather. On the other hand, it has kept the original negotiation untouched — thus leaving no space for legal complications. So even as India has gone for the Rafale fighter jet thereby retaining the goodwill of the French government, it has still retained the freedom to decide about the existing 126 ‘MMRCA’ contract,” a senior official said, adding that the IAF was consulted before the figure of 36 fighter jets in first go was arrived at.
Thirty-six aircraft, equivalent to two squadrons, is too small a number given that the IAF has 34 fighter squadrons and has a sanctioned strength of 42.
The official said the government may meet this shortfall with an arrangement that goes well with the Make in India slogan.
Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur said the government’s decision can’t be more than “an interim arrangement”. “It has to find a solution to meet the stipulated squadron strength,” he said.