The proposed deal to procure 126 Rafale MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) was critical for the Indian Air Force to maintain the desired force levels, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said here on Friday.

“The authorisation is for 42 squadrons of fighter aircraft. Presently, we have much less than that. In the 12th and 13th Plan [2012-2022], we have to maintain a certain force level because that is where the maximum draw down is taking place. So, we lose a number of squadrons in these two plan periods,” he said at the annual press conference ahead of the IAF’s 81st anniversary on October 8.

“In case, the MMRCA does not come to us in the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan [2017], then our force levels will to go down rapidly. That is what we have to prevent. We have to maintain force levels to provide deterrent capabilities,” he said.

Though the process to procure Rafale from French firm Dassault Aviation began after it was selected by the IAF more than a year ago, the lengthy process of negotiation and signing of the contract had still not been clinched.

Asked about IAF’s option in case the deal failed to materialise, the IAF chief said: “We are keeping the Defence Ministry fully updated. There is no second option. It has to work. The government is fully aware of our requirement.” If the contract was to be signed next year, the first MMRCA would be delivered only by 2017.

When asked if the recent death of Joint Secretary (Acquisitions) in the Defence Ministry Arun Kumar Bal would affect the MMRCA project, he admitted that it was a setback for not only the MMRCA project but for other projects too.

VVIP helicopters

To queries on VVIP helicopters, he said the government must take a decision as the contract for 12 AW101 AgustaWestland choppers had been frozen following allegations of kickbacks and irregularities.

Under the Rs. 3,600-crore deal signed in 2010, the company had supplied three helicopters, which were being flown at a “minimum level” to keep the machines going.

The present fleet of helicopters which fly VVIPs like the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister would need to be replaced within a year, he said.

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