Vice Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Shirish Baban Deo, batted in favour of Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft on Wednesday, 5 September.
When asked to comment on the deal which has landed in a controversy over the pricing of the aircraft, the Air Marshal said told media persons that the French fighter jet is “beautiful and capable”. He, however, declined to comment on the political tug-of-war over the deal.
“I shouldn’t comment but I can tell you all this discussion going on Rafale…because we know a lot about how everything went, we find that people don’t have information. We’re waiting for the aircraft. Rafale is beautiful and capable,” he said.
“It’s a capability we need very quickly,” he asserted.
The Air Marshal’s comment came on the day the Supreme Court agreed to hear a plea seeking a stay on the deal on the ground that there were discrepancies in the contract.
The plea, which will be heard next week, was moved by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma who has alleged irregularities in the deal for the purchase of 36 fighter jets inked between India and France on 23 September 2016.
The Congress has been accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government at the Centre over the pricing of the fighter jets. The Congress claims that the deal inked during the UPA rule was Rs 520 crore per aircraft which ballooned to Rs 1,600 crore in the new deal under the NDA regime.
Led by its president Rahul Gandhi, the party has demanded that the government reveal the price details of the Rafale fighter jets.
In its defence, the government has said that it is bound by a “secrecy clause” that was signed in 2008 during the UPA years which prohibits both New Delhi and Paris from revealing details of the deal to the public.
The Air Marshal also commented on Indian private defence manufacturers producing fighter jets for the country in the light of the urgent need of fighter jet squadrons in the fast depleting fleet of the Indian Air Force.
When asked if he favours manufacturing of the indigenously-produced Tejas fighter jet by private defence manufacturers, the Air Marshal quipped that he “personally does” while underlining that as per policy the Air Force will want a fighter delivered quickly and the money spent on acquisition of the aircraft to stay in the country.
“The Air Force policy is that anything comes to us quickly and money stays in our country; that’s what is required,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.
“Whether the money is with the DPSU (Defence Public Sector Undertakings) or with private company, as long as the money stays in the country, the investment is in the country and aircraft comes out quickly, why should we refuse it?” the decorated Vice-Chief of the Air Force said.
The Indian Air Force currently operates 33 fighter squadrons each with 18-20 aircraft. The sanctioned strength of the Air Force is 42 squadrons, which would be three short of the strength needed to fight a two-pronged war.