Stepping up its attack on the government over the Rafale fighter jet deal, the Congress on Thursday termed as “preposterous” Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s assertion that the government chose to procure only 36 aircraft from France in 2015, instead of the 126 being negotiated by the UPA government, as infrastructure and other technical requirements of the Indian Air Force do not allow for greater induction. The Congress said the Defence Minister has been “caught lying again”.
“The claim of Defence Minister that IAF does not have the infrastructure — parking place and maintenance facility — for 126 fighter aircraft is preposterous and goes against the grain of national security requirements. Does the Defence Minister even know that there is a sanctioned strength of 42 air squadrons for IAF,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said. “The Air Force had maintained up to 37-38 squadrons of fighter aircraft in the past. It currently has 33 squadrons, which is likely to fall to 31 by 2021. Considering that the Rafale aircraft will not be delivered till 2022, there will be available existing space for seven more squadrons,” he said.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Sitharaman said, “Every time you induct one squadron (standard fleet of 18 aircraft), there is a requirement for a lot of other paraphernalia to come in. Given a set of parameters, if you quickly want to induct, two is the ideal.”
Surjewala said the Defence Minister’s argument was “obnoxious” on two other counts. Asking whether the government and the IAF can not create infrastructure in the six to eight years in which the aircraft will be delivered, Surjewala said, “Can creation of parking space/maintenance facility be a ground for compromising air superiority and national security?”
The Congress alleged the Defence Minister is lying on the non-disclosure of price details. Surjewala claimed the Defence Minister is also guilty of not disclosing that the government did not follow the mandatory ‘fast track procedure’ for affecting ‘emergency purchase’ while entering the deal in 2015. Despite the emergency purchase, he said, India will receive the 36 Rafale aircraft only up to 2022 and that too “without India specific enhancements”.
The tender for the 126 aircraft floated by the UPA government, he said, included 13 India specific enhancements. “In fact, the UPA tender envisaged full weaponry and transfer of technology,” he said.