Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa on Thursday (16 November) rebutted charges of overpricing in the Rafale deal for purchase of 36 French fighter aircraft.
Dashing Rahul Gandhi’s hope of stirring up a controversy in view of the upcoming assembly polls in Gujarat, he categorically said that there was "no overpricing" in the purchase of the fighter jets from France and that the government had "negotiated a very good" deal for these 36 aircraft.
"It is not overpricing... We have negotiated for 36 French fighter aircraft Rafale (at a price) lower than that in the contract. The government has negotiated a very good deal," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.
It was under a "government-to-government contract" that the deal for 36 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) was negotiated.
"It is definitely a better deal. It is lower than what was there in the MRMCA contract," he said without going into specifics.
The Rafale deal has been the focus of debate with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accusing the Prime Minister of changing the "entire deal" to benefit a businessman, a charge debunked by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress also claims technology is not being transferred to India under the deal.
Dhanoa said the aircraft had been purchased in a fly-away condition as an emergency measure.
"We are getting 50 per cent offset," he said, without elaborating.
On technology transfer, he said, "Technology may not be going to the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) but it is coming to the Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) and then to a lot of Indians".
The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief said a plan was in place to deal with the "drop-down" – or dip – in the IAF squadron numbers.
He said the government had ordered two squadrons of Su-30MKI.
"The drop-down will be made up by two Rafale, two Su 30, two LCA squadrons and 80 more aircraft which will give four more squadrons," he said.
While the government has authorised 42 squadrons, the IAF at present has just 33.
He, however, added that the drop-down did not affect the performance of the force.
"It does not mean that we cannot carry out operations. We can do restricted operations. For carrying out full-spectrum operations the IAF needs a certain amount of force," he said.
"There was an order of 272 aircraft and once again we were 35 short by March 2017," he said.
Dhanoa said a contract was signed in March 2006 for 20 Tejas aircraft to be delivered between April 2009 and December 2010.
"Out of these 20 aircraft, only five were received ... Again a contract was signed in December 2010 for 20 more aircraft to be delivered between June 2014 and December 2016. So we have already committed to 40 aircraft in addition to 83 more Tejas," he said.
He said the IAF would induct Mark 2 fighters with higher thrust engines and new weapons by 2027.
Shortcomings in Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark 1 will be removed in the LCA Mark 1A aircraft, and then Mark 2 will be manufactured, he said.
"Gradually we will make advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, moving from low medium to high technology aircraft," he said.