Amid the raging row over the Rafale fighter jet, Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa Wednesday said the deal was a "good package" and the aircraft will be a "game-changer" for the subcontinent.
Dassault Aviation selected the offset partner and the Indian Air Force had no role in it, he told reporters.
"Rafale is a good aircraft. It will be game-changer when it comes to the subcontinent," he said at a press conference.
Dhanao also said the IAF played no role in the Rafale deal and that “it was Dassault that was to select offset partner.” He also said that the IAF was consulted on the decision to reduce the number of jets to 36, but the final choice was made by the government. “At the appropriate level, IAF was consulted. IAF had given some options. It is up to the government to choose,” Dhanoa said, reported ANI.
He also justified the procurement of only two Rafale squadrons, saying there are examples of similar purchases made to meet the requirements of the Air Force. “It was decided to buy two squadrons through Government to Government, to meet up emergency requirements. Hindustan Aeronautical was involved in Transfer of Technology and licensed production. There is no question of HAL being left out,” he said.
India’s Rafale deal with France has been in the eye of controversy, with the Opposition accusing the Modi government of irregularities in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets worth Rs 58,000 crore. The Indian Express earlier reported that only one of the 36 aircraft will be delivered by the end of the contract period in April 2022 with India-Specific Enhancements. India will receive the balance 35 by September 2019.
On India’s neighbours, Dhanoa said they are keeping a close watch and developing counter strategies for the same. “We’re watching infrastructure developments (in China). They (China) have been saying that airports are coming up for regional connectivity. We’ve a plan to counter that. We’re also developing infrastructure,” Dhanao said rejecting any threat from Chinese aircraft in Tibet to India.
Meanwhile, India is expected to sign the S-400 deal with Russia when President Vladimir Putin visits New Delhi this week. The S-400 deal has been caught in a diplomatic crossfire between US and Russia, with Washington threatening Delhi and other partners with sanctions if their defence deals with Russia go through. India and Russia have been discussing the purchase of the S-400 Triumf, (NATO calls it SA-21 Growler), a mobile, surface-to-air missile system since 2015.
The opposition led by the Congress has been accusing the government of benefitting Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence Ltd from the Rafale deal. The BJP has dismissed all the allegations as false.
The Rafale controversy took a new turn last month after Francois Hollande, who was French president when the Rs 58,000 crore deal was announced, was quoted as saying by French publication Mediapart that France was given "no choice" on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault. The Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant, he said.
Modi had announced the procurement of 36 Rafale fighters after holding talks with Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.