In a gamechanging development in the ongoing political controversy over the Rafale deal, over which the Congress has mounted an unabating broadside against the Modi government, for the first time, the Indian Air Force has broken its silence.
"Actually, I shouldn’t comment but I can tell you... all this discussion and all these things going on in Rafale, it is because we know a lot about how everything went, we find that, people don’t have the information, okay. And, I shouldn’t be, you know, speaking. I am not authorised to volunteer information, so we just lump it. And these kind of things are not … we are just waiting for the aircraft to come. It is a beautiful aircraft. Very, very capable aircraft and it is a capability that we need very quickly."
On being questioned further, he said: "I have said what I have said. I think I have made myself very clear. You just have to read the DPP, to know about offsets and things like that to say what is what, that's it."
"I do ... I personally do. The Airforce policy is that anything that comes to us quickly and money stays in the country, that is what is, you know, required. It doesn’t really … it is not necessary to know whether the money is with the DPSU (Defence PSU) or the money is with the private company, as long as money stays in the country, and investments are in the country and the aircraft come out quickly, why should we refuse it?"
The statement of the Air Vice Chief about critics not having information and his remarks placing his faith in the Rafael fighter come as a major blow to Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party who have mounted a nation-wide campaign to highlight a 'scam' in the deal between India and France.
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.