In the ongoing controversy over the Rafale deal, the answers of the senior officers of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to the questions posed by the Supreme Court on Wednesday are seen as being critical to the case. Although their summoning by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi drew a lot of attention, their responses dealt with the technicalities of the fighter aircraft fleet of the IAF.
Sources told The Indian Express that the response of the Assistant Chief of IAF, AVM J Chalapati, in the presence of Vice Chief and Deputy Chief of IAF, clarified that the Russian-origin Su30MKI is the latest aircraft to be inducted in India which will be under production at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) till 2021. Speaking of Mirage2000 in response to a question by CJI Gogoi, he said that the French aircraft, made by Dassault Aviation — the maker of Rafale — was inducted in 1985.
AVM Chalapati also told the apex court that there is no standard definition of classifying the generation of fighter aircraft, but Sukhoi Su30MKI is a 4th generation fighter. As the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile in the HAL-built indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is still under induction, it can be classified as 3.5+ generation. He thus placed them both as “between 4th and 3rd generation”.
The Indian Express has also learnt that the apex court had initially asked for the IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, but he was travelling to Thiruvananthapuram. AVM Chalapati was the first to reach the Supreme Court, followed by Vice Chief, Air Marshal Anil Khosla and Deputy Chief of Air staff, Air Marshal VR Chaudhari, to answer the questions from the bench comprising CJI Gogoi, besides Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph.
This is how the conversation occurred in the Supreme Court:
CJI: What is the latest fighter aircraft being inducted in the IAF?
ACAS: Su30MKI. Ongoing production till 2021, being delivered by the HAL.
CJI: Manufactured in Bangalore?
ACAS: No Sir. These are being manufactured at HAL Nashik Division. In addition, LCA is being manufactured in Bangalore and is being inducted into the IAF. I have been an LCA pilot and it is an excellent aircraft.
CJI: Which generation of fighter are these?
ACAS: Sir, there is no clear-cut definition of Generation of aircraft.
CJI: You are a fighter pilot you give me your assessment
ACAS: I would say between 4th and 3rd generation, 3.5 plus (Sukhoi is 4th Generation, LCA 3.5plus because its BVR missile is under induction)
CJI: Which generation of fighters are in the world today fifth and sixth?
ACAS: Currently aircraft are of 5th generation. These have stealth features and have advanced electronic warfare systems
CJI: When was Mirage 2000 inducted?
ACAS: The last aircraft was inducted in 1985.
CJI: Which other countries are flying Rafale?
ACAS: Qatar, Egypt and France.
CJI: When were these inducted?
ACAS: 2014 in Qatar. Egypt and France have been flying from before.
CJI: You may leave now. This is a different kind of war room and you all can go to your war rooms.