The Indian Air Force celebrates its 86th anniversary along with solid plans
Amidst the massive controversy surrounding the Rafale acquisition deal, by default, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has come under the spotlight, and with it, its concerns of a depleting squadron strength and piqued public interest regarding the nitty-gritties of defence acquisition procedure.
Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa reiterated that the IAF’s depleting squadron strength was a major concern in the context of the Rafale deal while answering questions at an annual press conference held on October 3 prior to the 86th Air Force Day celebrations.
Most of the questions ACM Dhanoa answered at the press conference were about bringing clarity to the discourse surrounding the Rafale deal. When asked about the reduced number of Rafales in the revised deal, ACM Dhanoa said that the IAF “had been consulted at the appropriate level” and that it was decided to buy two squadrons through a government to government deal, to meet emergency requirements. Elaborating on this, ACM Dhanoa said, “We had reached an impasse (in the MMRCA negotiations). We had only three options: wait and hope for the best, withdraw the Request for Proposal (RFP) and start over again or do an emergency purchase”. Justifying the ‘emergency’ purchase, ACM Dhanoa added, “If we didn’t go forward, we would have gone back six years. We had to address the problem of attrition in the air force.” This isn’t the first time the IAF has procured only two squadrons. The IAF procured only two squadrons of MiG-23, Mirage 2000, and MiG-29 when there was no domestic licensed manufacturer of those aircraft.
ACM Dhanoa further said that getting the 36 Rafales was a ‘bold step’ by the government. The new Rafales, he emphasised, would greatly enhance operational capabilities. Describing the deal, he said India “got a good package and a lot of advantages” and that the Rafale is a ‘high-performance, high-tech aircraft’ which will be a ‘game-changer’ in the subcontinent.
With a slew of significant acquisitions in the pipeline, one is compelled to ask whether these procurements will replenish the current inventory. For now, it looks like the IAF has plans to arrest its depleting squadron strength by not only getting the 36 Rafales but also upgrading the current Jaguars and Mirage 2000s with the MiG-29s having already been upgraded. Till the LCA Tejas Mk2 gets inducted, this seems to be the general direction the IAF will take.
Answering a question on why the revised deal seemed overpriced, ACM Dhanoa said, finance minister Arun Jaitley had divulged the price details, and that the IAF was sticking to those figures. Jaitley had said the basic fighter was nine per cent cheaper than the one being negotiated in the previous deal for 126 jets and the overall cost per jet was 20 per cent less. He also clarified that claims about savings on the deal were only ‘guesstimates’ since inflation and exchange rates are variable and wherein the overall cost of ownership will only be known once all payments have been made. Defending the Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) for the Rafale deal, he said, “How can you assume that they will sign a deal with a cost which is more than the cost already known?”
Responding to a question on state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) being left out of the offset contract in the Rafale deal, ACM Dhanoa said that it was the ‘prerogative’ of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to choose its offset partner and that neither the IAF nor the government had any involvement in it. With offset deals, the OEM is supposed to tie up with an indigenous player and invest a part of the amount in these companies to boost domestic manufacturing to discharge offset obligations. ACM Dhanoa said that of a total 47 offset contracts worth USD11.48 billion given by the defence ministry, 28 contracts worth USD9.73 billion were given by the IAF. Of that, only USD427 million worth of offsets have gone so far to HAL. “And what’s most important is that the OEM that has to discharge the offset obligations has to select HAL,” he added.
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