As top guns of the Indian Air Force set the desert on fire, the force’s latest acquisition C-130J Super Hercules was the show-stopper reminding the prime minister how important it is to continue with modernisation irrespective of the controversies like the one surrounding the purchase of VVIP choppers.
The US-origin special operation aircraft flew over President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and landed without a proper runway, released the troops and took off within minutes in a clear demonstration how valuable the aircraft would be in conflict situation.
India purchased six C-130J for special operations and talks are on for buying another six. In addition, the IAF bought 10 heavy lift C-17 transport aircraft that can carry tanks close to the border.
But the controversy on the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters has cast a shadow on speedy conclusion of the much awaited 126 fighter jets to replace the ageing MiG-21 fleet.
A budget cut, protracted price negotiation and alleged business interests of a large Indian company have delayed the commercial agreement with France’s Dassault Aviation for 126 Rafale fighters. Six days before the general budget, the IAF is hoping for adequate allocation to conclude the deal in 2013-14.
Defence Minister A K Antony, on his part, stated there were at least six-seven steps before the deal is inked. But a few weeks ago at the Aero India in Bangalore IAF chief N A K Browne hoped conclusion of the deal by the middle of 2013.
New platforms would bring the IAF closer to execution of seamless network-centric operations, Browne said at the Iron Fist exercise, being watched by Mukherjee, Singh and Antony for the first time.
Besides C-130J, other new acquisitions like Hawk advanced jet trainer and Pilatus PC-7 participated in the war game. Though the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft and Rudra light combat helicopter are yet to be inducted in the armed forces, they made their debut in the exercise.
About 225 aircraft including Su-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, Jaguars, MiG-29, MiG-21 BISONS and a whole range of attack and transport helicopters participated in the exercise showing the IAF’s ability to destroy enemy targets at day, dusk and night, which was beyond the reach of air warriors during India’s last war in 1971, experienced in the battle of Longewala near here.
Meanwhile, though the seven day time period given to AgustaWestland to respond to the Defence Ministry’s show cause notice expired on Friday, there is no confirmation from the response from the tainted company. On Thursday, the company said it is responding to India's query.