Even as the Opposition spearheaded by Congress kept up its attack on the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft from French company Dassault, Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa on Monday strongly defended the purchase saying its induction along with the S-400 missile system and the Apache and Chinook choppers will considerably enhance the IAF’s capabilities.

Speaking at a function at the Hindon Air Force base here to officers and personnel to mark the 86th anniversary of the IAF, he said the Air Force was “in the process of acquiring new combat systems. The acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft, the S-400 missile systems, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters would further enhance our capabilities.”

On Exercise Gagan Shakti, the largest-ever pan-IAF drill that showcased the IAF’s capabilities and preparedness, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said the IAF was “ever prepared to meet any contingency that challenges the defence of our country”.

During the exercise, designed to practice real-time deployment of air power in a realistic short and intense battle scenario in case of a two-front war in coordination with the Army and Navy, more than 11,000 sorties were flown including 9,000 sorties of fighter aircraft.

Over 1,400 officers and 14,000 men were pulled out of training and maintenance units and deployed for the exercise. “The IAF further expanded its participation in bilateral and multi-national exercise with air forces of friendly foreign countries such as Australia, Russia, Israel, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. These exercises have helped us build relations and kept us abreast with the latest practices and technological developments in the world of military aviation,” the Air Chief Marshal said.

It was a spectacular air show in which the MiG-21, MiG-29, Su-30 MKI, Tejas and Dhruv helicopters performed breathtaking manoeuvres.

There was the gravity-defying vertical charlie by single Su-30 as also manoeuvres, including rolls and loops, of the indigenously-built Tejas light combat aircraft that was the show-stopper.

The Sarang team of the IAF, flying the modified Dhruv choppers, enthralled the viewers with their daredevil midair stunts performed with precision. The Surya Kiran team, flying 16 HJT Mk.2 trainer aircraft, delighted the spectators with their myriad formations such as diamond, wine glass and Tejas.

Among those who attended the function were Army chief General Bipin Rawat and Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, as also former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, a Honorary Group Captain of the IAF.

While the Congress has been accusing the Modi government of indulging in crony capitalism and benefiting “a few friends” at the cost of the HAL in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal, Dhanoa maintained that the deal for 36 Rafale jets was an emergency purchase and that India got a good deal.