A week after the Indian Air Force broke its silence on the political controversy that has been created over India's deal to acquire Rafale jet fighters from France, the IAF has doubled down and elaborated on the significance of not only the aircraft, but also the deal, and specifically, on the emergency acquisition of two squadrons.
Speaking on the matter at an Air Force seminar, Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force Marshal BS Dhanoa said:
"By providing the Rafale S400, the government is strengthening the IAF to counter the shortfall of our depleting numbers."
The Air Chief defended the purchase of two squadrons of the Rafale fighter from France and put forth the need for numbers to be able to carry out the full spectrum of operations. Speaking about how India's armed forces were operating in a unique environment as a result of having two nuclear neighbours -- China and Pakistan -- he elaborated on how against a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, India currently has 31 squads of fighter aircraft, and even if there was a full complement, 'we will still be down against the combined strength of our two adversaries in the region.'
He went on to speak about the necessity of going in for emergency acquisition of fighter aircraft (such as the two squadrons of Rafale) citing precedent, viz. the procurement of two squadrons of Mirage 2000 fighters from France in 1985 and of two squadrons of MiG 23 also in the early 80s. Air Marshal Dhanoa pointed out how these emergency purchases involved two squadrons each, and in doing so, also ended up providing a response to political critics who have argued 'why only two squadrons?' Aside from the two squadrons of Rafale, the IAF has also initiated the process of procurement of 110 fighter aircraft.
A presentation was then made that spoke about the acquisition process of MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft). Here are some of the points made in the slides:
Another slide reads:
India got the Rafale with:
Further, a slide also spoke about how the deal had earlier reached an impasse:
July 2012 onwards, aspects related to maintenance, ToT and offsets were finalised but the CNC could not resolve issues related to license manufacture of 108 aircraft in India by HAL
MMRCA case reached an impasse due to irresolvable differences between Dassault Aviation and HAL with respect to: Additional man-hours to be used by HAL in production of Rafale and the cost increase thereof
The IAF chief also brushed aside the claims made by Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan that the IAF's morale had gone down because of the political controversy around the Rafale deal. He said: 'Morale isn't down. It doesn't come down on such small issues.'
The statements of the IAF over the course of a week come as a big blow to Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party which has decided to turn the matter into a major political controversy and has planned country-wide news briefings and on-ground events to bring attention to what they've called the 'Rafale scam'.
The basic premise of the Congress' allegations is that the deal that the UPA government had been discussing cost less per aircraft as compared to what was decided on by India and France following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention. And also, that rather than creating jobs for Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL), the lucrative contract for maintaining the jets would go Anil Ambani's Reliance group of companies, whom Rahul Gandhi has been describing as 'PM Modi's friend', which is burdened by a large debt, details of which are in the public domain.
The Congress president had faced massive embarrassment over the matter during the recent no-confidence motion against the Modi government, when he alleged that the French President had personally told him that there was no secrecy clause in place that prevented the Indian government from making the finer points of the deal public. Mere hours later, France issued a release refuting Rahul Gandhi's allegations.
Earlier, Republic TV had accessed papers that detailed that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government had decided on a deal that was effectively more expensive than the NDA government's by Rs 59 crore per plane (Rs 1646 crore for NDA, versus Rs 1705 crore for UPA), despite the NDA's deal also carrying added enhancements.
The Rafale fighter, manufactured by France-based Dassault Aviation, is the most potent twin-engine fighter aircraft in the world. It is a multi-role fighter aircraft capable of undertaking all types of missions with a capability to simultaneously perform both air defence and ground attack role in a single mission.
The Indian Rafale comes with about 15 modifications which even the French Air Force doesn't have. The biggest strength of the aircraft is that it can be used for delivery of strategic weapons too. Also, it comes equipped with latest weapon system including the Meteor Beyond Visual Range missile. As per sources the Rafale would be able to do five missions per day as compared to three for other aircraft because of quick turnaround time. For example, the engine of the Rafale can be replaced in 30 minutes as compared to 8 hours for the Su30.
The India specific modifications would also include Israeli helmet-mounted displays, ability to start at cold bases like Leh, better radar, better detection and survival features among others.