NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, on Wednesday said the government was strengthening the air force by providing the Rafale fighter from France and the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia. Addressing a seminar in New Delhi, the air chief said: “By providing the Rafale and the S-400 (anti-missile system), the government is strengthening the Indian Air Force to counter the shortfall of our depleting numbers of aircraft.”
According to him, “Very few countries are facing challenges like us. We have two nuclear-armed neighbours. We have to match neighbours Pakistan and China to tackle a two-front war. What we do not have are the numbers. Against a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, we are down to 31. Even when we do have 42 squadrons, we will be below the combined numbers of two of our regional adversaries.”
The remarks came a day after two former BJP Union ministers, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan accused the government of using ‘brave men and women in uniform’ to defend the Rafale deal, which they described as “the biggest defence scam ever.” The Congress is attacking the government over the deal, with party president Rahul Gandhi accusing Modi of having personally benefited from it.
Earlier this month, the IAF Vice Chief, Air Marshal SB Deo, had declared the Rafale “a beautiful aircraft” that would give India “unprecedented combat capabilities”. Defending the “emergency procurement” of 36 Rafale jets, Dhanoa said similar procurements had been made earlier.
At the same seminar, Air Marshal SBP Sinha, chief of the IAF’s Central Command, who was deputy chief during talks for the aborted bid to purchase 126 Rafales, said the “Rafale has been procured with the best-in-class weapons only because it was procured through the G2G (government-to-government) process.”
The Congress said in the evening that it was “disgusting and deplorable” that the government had to put up the Air Force chief to defend the Rafale deal.
Similar procurement of MiG-23MF air-defence interceptors was done from the then Soviet Union in 1983, soon after Pakistan acquired its first lot of US F-16s. India later got two squadrons each of the Mirage 2000 and the MiG-29, the air chief said.