Rafale jets a game changer, Indian Air Force chief says

New Delhi: Amid criticism of the Indian government’s Rafale fighter jet deal with France, Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa on Wednesday said the deal was a “good package” and the aircraft would be a “game-changer” for the subcontinent.

“Rafale is a good aircraft. It will be game changer when it comes to the subcontinent. We got a good package, a lot of advantages, in the Rafale deal,” Dhanoa told journalists.

On April 10, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a visit to Paris, announced the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation.

Congress and other Opposition parties have alleged that state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was unceremoniously dropped in favour of Anil Ambani’s inexperienced Reliance Defence Limited as an offset partner for Dassault.

However, Dhanoa on Wednesday said the IAF was consulted on the acquisition of the Rafale fighter jets.

“The IAF had listed its options — this was one of them. We were consulted at the appropriate stage,” he said.

The Air Chief listed several projects where HAL had delayed delivery of jets.

“HAL has met overall production targets. But there has been a lag in the delivery schedule of HAL, particularly in the upgrade of Sukhoi 30, Jaguar and Mirage 200,” he stated.

Explaining what went into the Rafale deal, he said, “we had reached an impasse. We had three options, first was either to wait for something to happen, withdraw [Request for Proposal] RFP or do an emergency purchase. We did an emergency purchase. Both Rafale and S-400 deal is a booster deal for the Air Force.”

Congress has accused the Modi government of unduly benefiting Reliance Defence through the deal.

But the IAF chief said Dassault Aviation selected the offset partner and the government and IAF had no role in it.

The controversy took a new turn last month after former French president Francois Hollande told media that France was given “no choice” in the selection of Reliance Defence as an offset partner.

“The Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant,” Hollande had said.

Attacking Congress, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week said that the party was “restless” because it could not make money in the deal.

She accused the previous Congress government of negotiating with “brokers” and not buying important equipment required for the defence forces.

“They were dealing with brokers and buying time, not buying important equipment. But we are buying the jets now and that is where I think the Congress is being restless. Restless because they couldn’t make money. They couldn’t perform, left the Air Force where it was,” Sitharaman told media.

She said Congress was desperate and its desperation showed.

“Congress cannot digest that this government can run without any allegation of corruption. For them it is just not going down the throat. They searched for corruption but when they could not find any, they threw an allegation on us. That is their approach,” the Defence Minister said.

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