Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa on Wednesday strongly defended the NDA government's controversial decision to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France in a Rs 59,000 crore contract.
“Please read history. In the past, there are examples of emergency purchase of two squadrons of MIG-23, MiG-29 and Mirage-2000 on different occasions. Rafale emergency purchase is not the first one,” Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said at a conference, wading straight into the row that emerged as a major political controversy between the government and opposition parties.
"By providing the Rafale and S-400, the government is strengthening the IAF to counter the shortfalls of our depleting numbers," he said.
What we do not have are the numbers. Against a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, we are down to 31. Even when we do have 42 squadrons, we will be below the combined numbers of two of our regional adversaries, Dhanoa said.
At the conference organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies, another top IAF officer Air Marshal SBP Sinha, currently chief of the IAF’s Allahabad-based Central Command and Deputy Chief during the negotiations for the earlier attempt to buy 126 jets, listed ten reasons justifying the Rafale deal.
He was giving a presentation on IAF capability build up in the high-tech era. However, details were not provided.
The points flagged by Sinha included “better price terms” and “India specific enhancement” - issues that received flak from the critics of the deal.
Earlier IAF Vice Chief Air Marshal S B Deo too defended the deal arguing that the critics didn't have adequate information on the contract. Sources said Deo was to travel to France shortly to fly the first IAF Rafale, which was undergoing flight trials.
Asked whether there was a plan to procure two more squadrons of Rafale, Deo on Wednesday said, "We have a procurement of 114 aircraft. Rafale would be participating and we have offers from them.”
IAF's strong defence of the Rafale deal comes a day after ardent critics like former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan criticised the Narendra Modi government for dragging serving officials into the Rafale controversy.
On Tuesday, the trio claimed that the Modi government, on being exposed to the Rafale deal, shot from the shoulders of men in uniform, who were being asked to spread lies.