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Rafale, S-400 missiles necessary to boost India’s defence capabilities - IAF Chief

The deal to buy the high-tech Rafale jets would partially offset the Indian Air Force’s depleting number of fighter squadrons needed to match force levels of its regional adversaries, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa said on Wednesday.

The IAF chief’s strong defence of the decision to buy the fighter jets comes against the backdrop of sharp attacks from the Congress-led opposition that accuses the government of negotiating an overpriced deal to buy 36 fighter jets in flyaway condition from France.

“No country in the world is facing the kind of grave threat that India is confronted with,” he said at a seminar in the national capital, underscoring that India had to be prepared to tackle a two-front war.

“In the last few years, fighter aircraft have been permanently stationed in the air fields in Tibetan Autonomous Region (by China). So have advanced radar and surface to air missiles,” he said.

But against a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, each with about 18 aircraft, the IAF only has 31 squadrons.

Even if air force had all the squadrons in place, the Air Chief said it still would be less than the combined strength of the air force in China and Pakistan.

“What we do not have are the numbers,” he said.

Pakistan has 20 squadrons “that can be brought to bear against us” while China has approximately 1,700 fighter aircraft, 800 of them fourth generation.

The top IAF officer said the government was shoring up the IAF’s capability to counter the shortfall of the depleting number by acquisition of high-tech Rafale jets and the Russian S-400 air defence systems.

The Air Chief’s comments come against the backdrop of a slugfest between ruling BJP and the Congress. The Congress claims the BJP government has agreed to pay for each Rafale aircraft, three times the price negotiated in 2012 by the previous UPA government it led.

The National Democratic Alliance’s decision to enter a $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale planes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015. The formal agreement was signed a little over a year later.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had rejected much of the opposition criticism on the deal, insisting that the basic aircraft price finalised by the NDA government was actually 9 per cent cheaper.

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