New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday expressed shock at defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s contention that lack of infrastructure prompted the whittling down of the Rafale deal from 126 aircraft to 36, claiming that her explanation betrayed ignorance and falsehood.
Accusing the government of resorting to a hundred lies to hide one, Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said: “The claim of the defence minister that the Indian Air Force does not have the infrastructure – parking place and maintenance facility – to fly 126 fighter jets is preposterous. Does she know that there is a sanctioned strength of 42 air squadrons for the IAF?”
“The IAF has maintained up to 37-38 squadrons in the past. The current number of air squadrons is 33, which is likely to fall to 31 by 2021. Considering that the Rafale jets will not be delivered till 2022, there will be available space for seven more squadrons, which means 18×7=126 aircraft.” Each squadron has 18 aircraft.
Sitharaman said in an interview to The Indian Express on Thursday: “Every time you induct one squadron, there is a requirement for a lot of other paraphernalia to come in.
“Given a set of parameters, if you quickly want to induct, two is the ideal. IAF will tell you that for any emergency-based induction, it is always two squadrons and not more than that. So that justifies why we settled for two.
“Because in ready, flyway condition, that is all you can induct, otherwise you have to spend a lot more on creating other paraphernalia for bringing in. At a time for us to procure, beyond two squadrons, infrastructure and other things would not have been possible, therefore we settled for two.”
Surjewala wondered if the government cannot create parking space and maintenance facilities in six to eight years even if there is no infrastructure.
“The defence minister is also guilty of not disclosing the fact that the mandatory ‘fast-track procedure’ for affecting ’emergency purchase’ was never followed by the Prime Minister at the time of announcement of the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft.
“She has also failed to point out that no such ’emergency purchase’ was approved either by the then defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, or the cabinet committee on security. How does she now explain the fact that despite the ’emergency purchase’ in April 2015, aircraft will not be delivered up to 2022 and that also without India-specific enhancements?” Surjewala said.
The Congress leader said the tender for 126 aircraft that was issued by the then UPA government was founded on “air staff qualitative requirements” that included 13 “India-specific enhancements”, including radar enhancement, helmet-mounted display, towed decoy system, low-band jammer, radio altimeter and ability to start and operate from high-altitude airfields.
“The UPA tender envisaged full weaponry and transfer of technology. This fact is also established by the joint statement on April 10, 2015, issued by then French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which reads: ‘That the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as has been tested and approved by Indian Air Force.'”