NEW DELHI and PARIS — Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa defended the decision of India’s ruling National Democratic Alliance to buy 36 Rafale fighters from France, calling it “a game changer" even as the opposition party criticizes the deal.
Addressing annual news conference, Dhanoha said: "At the appropriate level, the Indian Air Force was consulted, but it is for the government to choose. It was decided to buy two squadrons through a government to-government deal, to meet up emergency requirements.”
India and France signed the €7.8 billion (U.S. $8.99 billion) inter-governmental agreement Sept. 23, under which 36 Rafale fighter aircraft will be procured from Dassault Aviation for Indian Air Force (IAF) in fly away condition. France will invest 30 percent of the total contract value in India’s military aeronautics-related research programs and 20 percent into local production of Rafale components to fulfil the mandatory offsets under the deal. The deliveries of Rafale fighters will start this month.
India’s main opposition party, Indian National Congress, has claimed on several occasions that the Rafale deal is grossly overvalued and tainted by crony capitalism. The Congress said the Modi government had failed to answer several questions on why public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had lost the manufacting deal to industrialist Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd.
“The earlier deal for 126 medium multirole combat aircraft reached an impasse during negotiations," Dhanoa said,, referring to a $12 billion medium, multi-role combat aircraft program that was launchced in 2007 but scrapped 10 years later. "We had three options: wait for something good to happen, withdraw the global tender and start over again, or do an emergency purchase. We did an emergency purchase.”
Dhanoa called the cost of 36 Rafale was “reasonable and adequate."
The latest comments from Dhanoa come after Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman called baseless congressional allegations of a reduction in the number of Rafale jets being purchased from France. Congress has demanded the government explain why instead of 126 Rafale fighter jets, only 36 are being purchased if they were cheaper under the NDA deal than the prior deal.
Sitharaman is expected to hold the first annual defence ministers dialogue with her counterpart Florence Parly in Paris Oct. 12-13, as the two countries seek to expand bilateral defense and strategic ties.
In France, Dassault said the company had picked Reliance as its Indian partner to meet requirements for local offset established by the Indian Defense Procurement Procedure and Make in India policy. The statement followed controversy sparked by remarks by former French president François Hollande, who said the Indian government selected Reliance as the local partner and that the company "had nothing to say on the subject, we had no choice, we took the partner which was presented.”
Dassault put out its statement on the deal for 36 Rafale to India Sept, 21 statement, stating that, in accordance with the policy of Make in India, Dassault Aviation decided to make a partnership with India’s Reliance Group.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.