PUNE: Union minister and former Army chief V K Singh has raised questions over the capability of the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in refurbishing fighter planes, saying parts of aircraft had fallen off the runway, in an apparent reference to the recent Mirage 2000 crash in which two pilots were killed.
His remarks also assume significance in the backdrop of French company Dassault Aviation's decision to choose Reliance Defence of industrialist Anil Ambani as one of the Indian offshore partners in the multi-billion USD Rafale deal over HAL.
Talking to reporters here on Wednesday, Singh said, “You have seen HAL right? Our two pilots died. The programme is running three-and-half years late, only the eighth aircraft has been refurbished...All parts of aircraft fall off on the runway. Is that capability? And then we say that HAL is not getting work.”
On February 1, two pilots were killed after a Mirage trainer jet crashed during take-off at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) airport in Bengaluru.
The HAL is carrying out an upgrade of the Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft fleet of the Indian Air Force under a deal signed with France. Dassault Aviation had carried out upgrades on the first two of the 49 planes while the remaining were to be refurbished by HAL.
In November last year, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had attacked the Narendra Modi government, accusing it of sidelining HAL, a public sector undertaking (PSU), in the Rafale deal.
He had said that even though HAL-made aircraft were used effectively by the IAF to drop bombs during the 1999 Kargil War, the government did not find the state-run firm competent enough to be part of the Rafale deal.
The remarks of Singh, who is the Minister of State for External Affairs, also come a day after the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Rafale deal was tabled in Lok Sabha.
In its report, the CAG has said that the deal for 36 Rafale combat aircraft, reached by the Modi government with Dassault Aviation, was 2.86 per cent cheaper than the 126-plane Rafale deal which was being negotiated by the UPA government in 2007.
The report tabled in Rajya Sabha said the India-Specific Enhancements in the Rafale deal of the Modi government were 17.08 per cent cheaper than the deal which was withdrawn in 2015 after it got struck due to multiple issues.
The Congress president has, however, refused to accept the CAG report, raising questions over various elements in it.
Addressing a press conference hours after the CAG report was tabled in Parliament, Gandhi, citing a media report, claimed that three members of the Indian Negotiating Team (INT) had given a "dissent note" which was not included in the report.