In the midst of a raging political squabble over purchase of 36 Rafale jets, the Vice Chief of the IAF said Wednesday that the “beautiful” aircraft will give India “unprecedented” combat capabilities and those criticising the deal must understand the procurement norms. Air Marshal S B Deo also indicated unhappiness over delay in delivery of indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft Tejas by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and suggested that private sector should be involved in its production.
The IAF is reeling under shortage of combat aircraft. At present, it has 31 fighter squadrons against the authorised strength of 42 squadrons. Each squadron comprises 16-18 aircraft. On Rafale jets, he said “all discussions on the deal” were taking place as people do not have adequate information about the procurement procedure.
“We are waiting for the aircraft to come. It is a beautiful aircraft. It is a very capable aircraft. It is a capability that we need quickly,” he said on the sidelines of an event when asked about the controversy surrounding the Rafale deal. Asked about allegations relating to the Rs 58,000 crore deal, he said “all the discussions are taking place as people do not have information”. “They should read DPP (defence procurement procedure) and offset policy,” he said, adding the jets will give India unprecedented combat advantage.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019. The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, claiming that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,600 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government. The government has rejected the charges. The party has also demanded answers from the government on why state-run aerospace major HAL was not involved in the deal.
On Tejas, Air Marshal Deo suggested that the private sector should be involved in its production if it helps in quick delivery of the aircraft. “It is not necessary to know whether the money is with the DPSU (Defence Public Sector Undertakings) or with private company,” he said. “If the investment is in the country and aircraft comes out quickly, why should we refuse it?,” he added. The IAF had ordered 40 Tejas Mark-1 version. A request for proposal was issued to HAL by the IAF in December for the procurement of another batch of 83 Tejas aircraft at a cost of around Rs 50,000 crore.
At present, the HAL is producing around eight Tejas annually and the defence ministry wants it to increase the number to 18 planes per year.