36 Rafales not enough, says IAF chief

‘If the deal is good and the govt. decides, we need to have six more squadrons’

October 04, 2015 12:42 am | Updated 04:38 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The 36 Rafale fighters that India is buying from France are not enough to meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has said, adding that at least six more squadrons of similar fighters would be needed.

“Definitely, we would like to have MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) variety of aircraft. At least about six squadrons, to my mind. Let us see, there may be some other alternatives as well,” Air Chief Marshal Raha said, addressing a press conference ahead of the Air Force Day on October 8. He was responding to a question on the possibility of the IAF wanting more than the 36 Rafale fighters being negotiated now under a government-to-government deal announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his trip to France in April.

“I may wish to have Rafale. But there are equally good aircraft. So, if the deal is good and the government decides, we need to have six of similar squadron,” he said. IAF sources said they were looking at two possible scenarios: Of ordering more Rafale fighters, or of filling the gaps with more indigenous LCA (light combat aircraft) Tejas and the proposed advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), which is an indigenous fifth generation fighter for which the feasibility study has been completed.

He estimated that the country had 15 years to develop the indigenous AMCA project, which is now gathering more urgency also because India’s joint programme with Russia to develop a fifth generation fighter has run into serious issues. Only a political intervention can now save the project, sources insist.

The IAF needs to add 10 more squadrons by 2027 to the current strength of 32 squadrons, according to its own projections.

The original plan under the MMRCA contract was to buy 126 fighters, for which Rafale was finalised and negotiations were under way. However, in April, Mr. Modi sprang a surprise in Paris by announcing the government-to-government deal.

Air Chief Marshal Raha claimed that the selection process of India that resulted in picking Rafale for the MMRCA was so impeccable that its French maker Dassault has been able to sell the aircraft to many other countries, riding on its victory in the IAF selection.

Sources said that the IAF had scrapped the earlier plan to develop an upgraded version of Tejas, and would now induct six squadrons of the present version with some improvements such as new electronic warfare suit, refuelling capacity, better radar, and better missiles. The present version of LCA was assessed by the Air Force to have 57 deficiencies, of which 45 have been addressed.

A senior officer said that the training of IAF pilots — the first batch comprises four of them — on the indigenous LCA has already started.

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