Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said the deal to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets under the United Progressive Alliance government collapsed as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited could not guarantee that the product would be produced, PTI reported. Under the previous deal, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was supposed to produce the aircraft in collaboration with France’s Dassault Aviation.
“Dassault could not progress in the negotiations with HAL because if the aircraft were to be produced in India, a guarantee for the product to be produced was to be given,” she said. “It is a big-ticket item and the Indian Air Force would want the guarantee for the jets. HAL was in no position to give the guarantee.”
In 2012, the United Progressive Alliance government started negotiating with Dassault to buy 126 Medium Multi-Rule Combat Aircraft. According to the negotiations back then, Dassault was to supply 18 Rafale jets in fly-away condition, while HAL, along with the company, was to manufacture 108 aircraft in India. However, the deal did not work out.
Negotiations led Dassault to believe there would be a significant increase in the price of the jets if they were produced in India, the defence minister said. “Even during negotiation with HAL, Dassault felt that the cost with which the HAL will produce will be far higher than the aircraft produced in France,” she said. “That was the reality.”
India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets, at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. The Rafale jets are expected to be delivered from September next year, said Sitharaman. She added that the weapon systems, avionics and other extra features will be “much superior” than that negotiated by the previous government, and that the National Democratic Alliance government is paying 9% lesser than the earlier rate.
Since infrastructure and technical requirements of the IAF do not allow for greater induction, the government decided to buy only 36 jets, Sitharaman told The Indian Express. “Every time you induct one squadron, there is a requirement for a lot of other paraphernalia to come in,” she said. “Given a set of parameters, if you quickly want to induct, two is the ideal.”
A squadron comprises 18 aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Congress accused Sitharaman of lying and reiterated its demand for a joint parliamentary committee report on the deal. “Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is caught lying again on the number of fighter aircraft required by the IAF,” said party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. “PM Modi’s decision to arbitrarily reduce the requirement of 126 fighter aircraft to 36 is unexplainable.”
“The claim of the defence minister that IAF does not have parking and maintenance facility to fly 126 fighter jets is preposterous and goes against the grain of national security requirements,” he added.
The Rafale deal
The opposition Congress has been accusing the Narendra Modi government of getting an overpriced deal. It has also alleged that the government helped a defence firm owned by Anil Ambani with no experience in the sector to land a mega contract under the deal.
The government has refused to reveal the per-plane price that it has negotiated in the deal, citing a secrecy agreement with France. On August 29, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley played down Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s allegations of irregularities in the deal and asked the party to show evidence.