Amid row over Reliance Defence as Dassault’s offset partner for Rafale, Air Chief says neither govt nor IAF has anything to do with such selections.
New Delhi: Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff, was scathing in his criticism of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Wednesday even as he mounted support for the controversial Rafale deal.
Calling it a “slight” lag, Dhanoa emphasised that the defence PSU was behind schedules on delivery of several contracts.
Addressing reporters at the annual press conference ahead of the Air Force Day on 8 October, Dhanoa also stressed that the selection of the offset partner for defence contracts is the prerogative of the company contracted, and the Government of India or the Indian Air Force has nothing to do with it.
Dhanoa’s comments comes as the Modi government faces opposition heat over the controversial Rafale deal.
The Chief of the Air Staff also called the Rafale fighter jet a “gamechanger” and French manufacturer Dassault Aviation “as good a player as any”.
HAL is running three years behind schedule on the assembling contract for Sukhoi-30, said Dhanoa, adding that 25 of these aircraft are yet to be delivered.
Further, HAL is running six years behind schedule for the Jaguar Darin III upgrade, five years behind schedule for the LCA Tejas with Initial Operational Clearance, two years behind schedule for the upgrade of the Mirage 2000 and five years behind schedule for the HTT 40 (trainer aircraft) for assembly and manufacturing, said Dhanoa.
“This is the status as we speak,” said the Chief of the Air Staff.
Among the three services, there have been 47 contracts for offsets, of which 28 are for the Indian Air Force, said Dhanoa.
Offsets are reinvestments made by an original equipment manufacturer to shore up indigenous defence industry.
Among the $11.48 billion in offsets that have been contracted, $9.73 billion would be the worth of offsets for the IAF, he said. Of this amount, HAL has only got contracts worth $427 million.
Dhanoa, however, added that HAL has been a huge support during the countrywide Gagan Shakti exercise in April. It was one of IAF’s biggest military exercises in the last three decades.
Dhanoa also said HAL met its overall production targets in the last financial year. He added that it was because of HAL’s support that the IAF could maintain high serviceability.
Issues with HAL were expected to be addressed during an annual commanders’ conference, said Dhanoa.
“It is not for public domain,” he added.
Backing the Rafale deal, Dhanoa said that India has got a very good package along with the aircraft.
“We got the most modern sensors, best in-class weapons, state of the art electronic warfare and enhanced survivability, India-specific enhancements, better delivery terms, better maintenance terms, longer industrial support commitment, additional warranty and longer lifecycle commitment. So we have got a lot of advantages in the Rafale deal,” he said.
Dhanoa said both the Rafale deal and the S-400 are like a booster dose to the IAF as its squadron numbers are falling.
“Rafale is a very good aircraft. When it comes into the subcontinent, it will be a game changer because it has got significant capabilities, better than what our regional adversaries have got,” said Dhanoa.
“It also takes care of the new aircraft they are likely to be inducted in the near future,” said the Chief of the Air Staff.
In another proposed deal for 114 aircraft, for which the Request for Information (RFi) was floated, Dassault Aviation was one of the respondents, said Dhanoa.
“So it is as good a player as anybody else,” he added.
‘Didn’t push for anything’
On being asked about why the IAF’s operational requirement for 126 Rafale-type fighter jets was slashed to 36, Dhanoa said the IAF was consulted at an “appropriate level”.
“IAF had given the government some options and it was the prerogative of the government to choose from the options,” he said.
“The IAF did not push anything. There were just three options. Either you continue waiting and hope that something will happen. Or you withdraw the RFP (Request for Proposal) and start all over again. Or you do an emergency purchase,” he said.