Rafale will be game-changer for subcontinent: Air chief

Rafale will be game-changer for subcontinent: Air chief

Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa.

Notwithstanding the controversy over India-France agreement to procure 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from Dassault Aviation, Indian Air Force chief B S Dhanoa on Wednesday defended the 2016 deal, saying that the government had taken a “bold decision” and it was like a “booster dose” for the air defence of the nation.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa also said that the Government or the Indian Air Force had no role in choosing the Reliance Defence as the offset partner of the Dassault Aviation. He indicated that the French company itself had chosen Anil Ambani's company as its offset partner.

“Offsets are a prerogative of (the) OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer i.e. Dassault Aviation). The Government or (the) IAF had nothing to do with it,” Dhanoa said in response to a query on Dassault Aviation choosing Reliance Defence as its offset partner.

The IAF chief was addressing a news conference ahead of the 86th Air Force day on October 8.

He said that when the Rafale fighter jets would be inducted into the fleet of the IAF, it would be a “game-changer” in the subcontinent. He added that India would have significantly better air defence capability than its “regional adversaries” once it would get the fighter jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation. “Rafale is a good aircraft. We have got a good package (in the deal),” he said.

Dhanoa said that the decision to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets off the shelf from Dassault Aviation in a government-to-government deal was an “emergency purchase” in view of the depleting resources and capability of the IAF.

“We had reached an impasse (in negotiation over buying altogether 126 Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation). We had three options, first was to wait for something to happen, second was to withdraw (the) RFP (Request for Proposal) or do an emergency purchase. We did an emergency purchase,” said the IAF chief.

He said that both the 2016 agreement to buy Rafale jets as well as the proposed deal to buy S-400 air defence system from Russia were “like booster doses” for air defence of India.

New Delhi's Rs 59000 crore government-to-government deal with Paris to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets “off the shelf” turned into a major political controversy in India, with the BJP-led Government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi being accused by the opposition Congress of nudging the Dassault Aviation to choose Reliance Defence as its offset partner, brushing aside Public Sector Undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The Congress got a shot in the arm in its tirade against Modi Government after former French President Francois Hollande recently said in Paris that the Government of India had pushed for Reliance Defence to be the offset partner of the Dassault Aviation. Hollande also said that French Government had no role in selecting the offset partner as the Government of India itself wanted Reliance Defence in that role. This prompted the Congress to accuse the BJP-led Government of favouring Anil Ambani's company, ignoring the state-owned HAL.

The opposition party also alleged that Modi Government had agreed to pay a price which would be much higher than the price that was discussed when erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government was negotiating the deal for buying 126 Rafale fighter jets from the Dassault Aviation.

Dhanoa on Wednesday also said that the Government had consulted the IAF “at the appropriate level” before opting for a deal to buy 36 Rafale jets off the shelf from Dassault Aviation in order to end the impasse in the earlier negotiation for procuring 126 jets from the same company.