Indian Air Force chief defends Rafale deal, calls it a game-changer

Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on Wednesday said the federal government’s deal with France for buying 36 Rafale fighter jets is a good package that could enhance India’s defence capability.

Addressing a media conference ahead of Indian Air Force Day on October 8, Dhanoa said Dassault Aviation, which manufactured the Rafale fighter jets, selected the offset partner and the Indian government and IAF had no role in the choice.

The Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was not left out (as alleged by opposition party Congress). It was involved in the transfer of technology and licensed production, Dhanoa said.

The IAF was consulted by the government on reducing the number of jets to 36, he added.

Congress and its allies had contended that the 36 Rafale fighter jets were overpriced compared with the 2007 offer during their rule. They alleged that the 2016 deal was to benefit Dassault’s offset partner Reliance Defence Ltd of Anil Ambani whose family is said to have close ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power. The BJP has rubbished both allegations.

India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the basic aircraft price his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had quoted was 9% less than the one the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had proposed.

According to him, the UPA government failed to sign the decade-old original deal because of its incompetence and indecisiveness. This delay compromised national security when India’s two neighbours had already boosted their air power.

UPA halted the deal because it was a government-to-government one with no middle men or kickbacks involved as in the case of the purchase of the 155 mm Bofors gun.

While charging that the Rafale jets are overpriced, the Congress Party ignored the escalation clause and the significant exchange rate variations between Rupee and Euro during the delay in the deal.

When the add-ons such as India-specific adaptations, weaponry and such other factors are considered as NDA did, the basic aircraft price quoted by UPA would have gone up by at least 20%, Jaitley said.

Congress failed to rebut Jaitley’s arguments. However, last month, they got a chance to pounce on the government again after former French president Francois Hollande told an online investigative journal that France was given “no choice” over the selection of the Indian partner for Dassault.

According to Hollande, the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance Defence as the offset partner for Dassault Aviation.

Jaitley doubted the timing of Hollande’s disclosure. It came days after Rahul tweeted about some big bombs to go off in a week or so. Jaitley said it was not a mere coincidence that the Opposition leaders of the two countries were speaking in one voice on the Rafale issue.

Later, Hollande contradicted himself by telling AFP that Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence chose themselves as partners for the offset contract under the Rafale deal.

Dhanoa said the original negotiations to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets by the Congress-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) hit a roadblock. The BJP-led government which came to power in 2014 was left with three options: wait and watch, cancel the deal or go in for an emergency purchase. It chose the third step and bought 36 jets to meet up emergency requirements.

Turning to Russia, Dhanoa said President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi this week may lead to the signing of the deal on S-400 anti-ballistic missile system which could further boost India’s defence capability.