New Delhi: In a surprising decision which is likely to have a major impact on the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Centre has scrapped the $20 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal for purchase of 126 Rafale fighter jets which was negotiated by the previous United Progressive Alliance government. Speaking to CNN-IBN, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar claimed that Rafale fighters cannot replace the ageing MiG-21 which will be phased out in the next 6-10 years.
Parrikar said that India's indigenous Light Combat aircraft Tejas will replace MiG 21 as both are almost of the same category while the Rafale is a much bigger jet with a longer range and more weapons carrying capabilities. "We have not purchased any new aircraft of latest technology in the past 15 years. IAF desperately needs fourth generation aircraft, the fifth generation that we are working on will take 10-15 years," said Parrikar.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to France negotiated with the government there to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets in fly-away condition under a new deal. After meeting French President Francois Hollande in Paris on April 11, Modi announced that IAF would get 36 Rafale jets.
"I think it is a bold decision and I will give 100 out of 100 to the Prime Minister. Many people politically fail to take decision. But the need of the nation comes first. What Modiji has done is that he has got a deal for 36 aircraft. We will negotiate and will buy more. The ice has been broken," he said.
"We are phasing out MiG-21. Rafale is not a replacement for MiG. It satisfies the upper end. IAF needs aircraft with capacity of 1000 kms radius. It is a strategic purchase. The earlier government should have taken decisions on government to government deals," added Parrikar.
While pointing out that IAF needs new fighters within a short time frame and so the government to government deal to buy 36 Rafale jets was finalised.
"We have not purchased all 36 aircraft. When there is a PM or President level deal, it is matter of principle clearance. We have promised to purchase 36 aircraft. The major reason for the deal is to induct it in the minimum time frame. It is a good deal," he said.
"Make in India part of the deal will be discussed between ministries. Rafale is a top end fighter and satisfies other criterion as well. The aircraft is expensive and hence we have to take steps. The deal for 126 jets would have cost Rs 90,000 crore. Rafale cannot replace MiG-21, Tejas can do that. We won't induct any low end aircraft. Tejas is a lighter aircraft, it has its limitations. It cannot loiter for hours. Its carrying capacity is only 10-12 tonnes whereas Rafale can carry 24 tonnes," he said.
On charges made by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy that the Rafale deal is not in India's interest, the Defence Minister said that he will explain to his colleague the entire scenario and that Swamy's reaction was based on instant news.
But Swamy termed the new Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France a case of arbitrariness. Swamy is yet to decide on what action to take over Modi government's decision to purchase 36 aircraft from France.
Swamy said, "I have not yet decided on whether to approach the court. I am waiting for papers on the new Rafael deal. It prima facie appears to be a case of arbitrariness." Swamy requested Modi not to go ahead with the Rafale deal, which was negotiated by the previous UPA government, and said the performance of the French jet "turned out to be worst of all the aircraft" in Libya and Egypt.
IAF had shortlisted the Rafale fighter under the MMRCA deal after a close competition which also saw Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, Mikoyan MiG-35 and Saab JAS 39 Gripen in the race. While Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, Mikoyan MiG-35 and Saab JAS 39 Gripen were eliminated very early, Dassault Rafale edged out the Eurofighter Typhoon in the final negotiation.
At present the IAf has just 34 fighter squadrons against the ideal 46 squadrons required to take on the threat from both Pakistan and China simultaneously. The ageing MiG-21 and MiG-27 planes are being phased out which will see the IAF strength depleting by at least eight more squadrons.
Under the MMRCA deal, India was to get only 18 Rafale directly while the rest 108 fighters were to be manufactured by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. But the final deal between India and France was stuck over who would be responsible for the manufacturers' guarantee on 108 jets which were to be built HAL. India wanted Rafale maker Dassault Aviation to take full responsibility which the latter had not agreed to.