Rafale deal a ‘good package’ and a game-changer: Air Force Chief


NEW DELHI: Defending the Rafale fighter jet amid a raging political row, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa Wednesday termed the deal a “good package” and said the aircraft will be a “game-changer” for the subcontinent.

He said the S-400 air defence missile systems, a deal for which is likely to be signed later this week after Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives here Thursday, and the 36 Rafale jets will provide the Air Force with a much needed “booster”.

Addressing a press conference here, Dhanoa described the decision to buy the Rafale fighter jets as a “bold move” by the government and said it was an “emergency purchase” keeping in view the depleting squadrons of the Air Force.

In response to a question on Rafale maker Dassault Aviation choosing Reliance Defence over state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Dhanoa said it was the “prerogative” of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to choose the offset partner and neither the government nor the Air Force had any role in it.

The Congress and other opposition parties have claimed massive irregularities in the Rafale fighter jet deal and the issue has been gathering steam ahead of three crucial state polls and Lok Sabha polls next year. The BJP and Reliance Defence have dismissed all the allegations as false.

Dhanoa said the Rafale is a “very good aircraft”.

“When it comes to the subcontinent, it will be a game-changer because it has significant capabilities, better than what our regional adversaries have got. It takes care of even the new aircraft they (adversaries) are likely to induct in near future,” he said.

“We have a very good package along with the aircraft,” the Air Force chief added.

Endorsing the deal, he said the Air Force has got the most modern censors, state-of-the-art weapons, India specific enhancements, better price terms, better delivery time schedules, better maintenance terms, longer industrial commitment terms and additional warranty.

“We have a lot of advantages in the Rafale deal,” Dhanoa said.

Responding to a question on whether the Air Force was consulted before going ahead with the government to government (G2G) deal to buy 36 Rafale jets, Dhanoa said it was consulted at an “appropriate level”.

He said the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal to buy 126 aircraft, where Rafale was the lowest bidder, had reached an “impasse” due to “irresolvable differences” between HAL and Dassault Aviation over HAL’s additional man hours in production of the aircraft and the resultant cost increase.

The MMRCA deal was discussed during the UPA regime and scrapped by the NDA.

“The available options were analysed. We had choices — one, to continue indefinitely to resolve the difference between Dassault Aviation and HAL; cancel RFP (Request for Proposal) and restart the process,” Dhanoa told reporters.

Considering another variant at this stage will require a few more years, he said.

“It was decided to procure two squadrons of aircraft on G2G basis to meet the critical operational necessity of the IAF. We have bought two squadrons of aircraft under emergency purchase…starting from the time Pakistan bought the F-16s,” he said.

One squadron has about 18 aircraft.

Dhanoa acknowledged HAL’s support to the Air Force but said there has been a “slight lag” in the public sector unit’s delivery schedule.

“We are three years behind in Sukhoi 30, 25 are yet to be delivered. In Jaguar, we are six years behind, five years behind in LCA (light combat aircraft-Tejas). In Mirage 2000 upgrade, we are two years behind, and in HTT (Hindustan Turbo Trainer aircraft) 40 we are five years behind,” Dhanoa said, listing the pending deliveries by HAL.

The Cost Negotiating Committee for the Rafale deal comprised people with “good and balanced judgment”, he said when questioned on reports that some members of the panel had raised concerns over the price.

“All those things were discussed and the observations that were there were adequately addressed and only then it was decided that yes, the cost of the 36 aircraft was reasonable. How can you assume they will sign a contract many times more than the cost we already know? It is slightly awkward,” he said.

He parried questions on the cost of the fighter jets.

“Rafale cost…we are going by the FM (finance minister). There are some other costs, it is based on guesstimates…a lot of things can change. Inflation changes. Rupee is going down… You will come to know once the deal is over, how much money we managed to save,” the Air Force chief said.

Dhanoa did not comment on whether the S-400 deal would be signed later this week, but said he does not think that the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSA) will have any impact on the deal.

CATSA is a US legislation that mandates the country to punish entities from dealing in areas of defence with nations like North Korea, Russia and Iran.

India has conveyed to the US that it is going ahead with the S-400 deal with Russia.

Last month, Francois Hollande, who was French president when the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal was announced, was quoted as saying by French publication Mediapart that France was given “no choice” on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault, the manufacturer of Rafale jets.

The Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant, he said.


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