New jets won’t join IAF anytime soon

Up in arms: Congress workers at a recent protest against the Rafale deal in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Many in the military have expressed scepticism about the possibility of the government concluding the new process to acquire 110 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force any time in the near future.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday alleged that the Prime Minister’s friends would “benefit out of the tender”.

“Modi Scam Alert! 15 Billion $ fighter jet deal re-tendered. PM’s friends race to tie up STRATEGIC partners,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted in response to the Request for Information (RFI) issued on Friday by the Defence Ministry for acquiring the jets.

Strategic partners

Mr. Gandhi’s allegation stems from reports of industrial houses perceived close to the Modi regime having tie-ups with fighter jet companies, and ending up being strategic partners for the proposed deal.

Under the RFI issued on Friday, 85% of the 110 fighters will have to be made in India with a local strategic partner.

“RAFALE, 40,000 Cr. loss to exchequer was ‘Sayonara’ money to French, so PM could re-tender contract and favour friends,” Mr. Gandhi said. He was referring to the 2015 decision to buy Rafale fighter jets in a government-to-government deal, after cancelling the tender for 126 fighters under the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) deal.

IAF sources said they did not see any immediate turnaround in the ongoing drop in fighter numbers in service. If the present situation continues and older aircraft are phased out at the planned rate, then by 2027, the IAF could be left with just 19 fighter squadrons.

“Even in the most optimistic scenario, it is going to take at least four to five years for the process to reach some logical conclusion, by then our fighters’ strengths would have further fallen,” an IAF officer said.

The officer said that such large-scale fighter contracts were becoming victims of “politics and election cycle”. The MMRCA tender, which formally started in 2007, was scrapped in 2015 after an elaborate process, including extensive field trials.

Another officer said, “Yet another tender is not the solution to our challenge. The government needs to think innovatively, otherwise like the submarine arm the fighter fleet would not be in a position to meet challenges.”

The comments came on the eve of the IAF kick-starting one of the biggest combat exercises from Sunday. During exercise Gaganshakti, almost the entire assets of the IAF would be deployed to check out its war waging capability.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 11:14:58 AM |

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