Govt, IAF had no role in choosing offset partner in Rafale deal, it was Dassault's decision: Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa

Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa on Wednesday came out in defence of the Rafale fighter jet deal with France, saying that Dassault Aviation, the French firm that will manufacture the jets, had chosen Reliance Defence as its offset partner, and that the government and the Indian Air Force had no role to play in the choice.

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa. PTI

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa. PTI

"Offsets are a prerogative of OEM (original equipment manager). The government of IAF had nothing to do with it. We will not comment on who was nudged as that is out of our domain," he said when questioned about the government playing favourites while inking the Rafale deal.

"Only three options were left when negotiations between Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Dassault reached an impasse — wait for something to happen, withdraw the RPF (request for proposal) or make an emergency purchase. We chose the last. In the past, too, we acquired two squadrons of the Dassault Mirage," the Air Chief Marshal said.

"Negotiations for the Rafale deal had reached such an advanced stage that if we didn't go forward, we would have gone back six years," he said. "We had to address the problem of attrition in the air force."

India had signed the deal with France in September 2016 to procure of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore. The delivery of the aircraft is scheduled to begin from September 2019. The Congress has raised several questions about the contract, including about the rates of the aircraft, the number of fighter jets bought as well as the decision to have Reliance Defence partner with Dassault Aviation instead of the public sector enterprise Hindustan Aeronautics. The Central government has rejected all the charges.

Expressing concern over the "number of depleting squadrons", he said both the Rafale jets and the S-400 air defence missile systems — a deal for which India is likely to sign with Russia this week — are like a "booster dose" to the air force. "As and when the government approves it (the S-400 air defence missile systems), delivery will be in 24 months," he added.

India "got a good package and a lot of advantages" in the agreement, Dhanoa said, also praising the fighter jet as a "good aircraft", saying it will be "game-changer when it comes to the subcontinent". "The government took a bold step and bought 36 Rafale aircraft. A high-performance, high-tech aircraft has been to the given to the air force to offset the capability of the adversary," he said in further praise of the deal," Dhanoa added.

When asked whether the IAF was consulted before the Centre decided to buy 36 Rafale planes instead of 126, Dhanoa said the air force was "consulted at the appropriate level". "The IAF had given some options, but it is up to the government to choose," he said.

The Congress has demanded the government explain why instead of 126 Rafale fighter jets, only 36 were being bought if they were cheaper, as the Centre claimed, under the NDA deal than the one worked out by the UPA.

Earlier in September, as well, the Air Chief Marshal had said that by providing the Rafale jets and S-400 system, the government is strengthening the IAF to counter the shortfalls of the country's depleting squadrons. The IAF vice-chief, Air Marshal SB Deo, had also strongly endorsed the Rafale fighter jets, calling it a "beautiful" aircraft and saying it will give India an "unprecedented" combat advantage.

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Updated Date: Oct 03, 2018 13:57:29 IST

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