IAF Chief BS Dhanoa backs Rafale deal, says fighter jets will strengthen India's air defence
By providing the Rafale and S-400 aircraft, the government is strengthening the Indian Air Force to counter the shortfall of our depleting numbers [of aircraft], Chief of Air Staff BS Dhanoa says.
Chief of Air Staff BS Dhanoa on Wednesday has said the Rafale aircraft will strengthen India's air defence against regional adversaries. Hailing the government's decision to buy Rafale and S-400 aircraft, the IAF Chief said these jets would help India counter the falling number of aircraft. Six days ago, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar had also said Rafale is the best fighter jet available in the market today and will help in establishing the IAF supremacy over the subcontinent skies.
"By providing the Rafale and S-400 aircraft, the government is strengthening the Indian Air Force to counter the shortfall of our depleting numbers [of aircraft]," Dhanoa said. India is buying five regiments of cutting-edge fighter jets, S-400 Triumf, from Russia.
He added: "One of our adversaries, Pakistan, has approximately 20 fighter squadrons that can be brought to bear against us. In the last decade, China has significantly developed road, rail and airfield infrastructure in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). In the last few years, fighter aircraft have been permanently stationed in the airfields in TAR, so have advanced radar and surface-to-air missiles."
The Chief of Air Staff talked about China's growing air power, which might pose threat to India's national security as well as regional interests. "As per open source information, China has around 1,700 aircraft, of which 800 are the fourth generation. A large number of these can be deployed against us in the TAR in case of hostilities. There are some limitations on parking and operating from there but it has got enough reserves and depth to take care of its attrition," he said.
Talking about India's air strength, Dhanoa said India lacked an adequate strength of squadrons. "What we do not have are the numbers, against a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, we are down to 31. Even when we do have 42 squadrons, we will be below the combined numbers of two of our regional adversaries," he said.
IAF Chief's comments bear significance in wake of the recent controversy around the Rafale deal. On September 6, Nambiar had also dismissed Congress President Rahul Gandhi's claims of a "scam" in the Rafale deal, calling it a "much better deal" than the one negotiated by the Congress party. He also said the Modi government's deal was 40 per cent cheaper than the Congress deal, which was being negotiated since 2008 and could not be completed.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly accused the Modi government of favouring a businessman (Anil Ambani) with "zero" experience in the defence sector. The party has been accusing massive irregularities in the Rafale deal, alleging the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government for the procurement of 126 Rafale jets.
The BJP, however, has junked the accusations. Recently, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Rafale deal negotiated by the Modi government is 9 per cent cheaper than what the Congress had negotiated. The Congress has also been pressing for the price details of the deal, but the Modi government has refused to divulge them citing confidentiality provisions of a 2008 Indo-France pact.