Outgoing air force chief Arup Raha on Wednesday said the 36 Rafale warplanes ordered from France for $8.7 billion were not enough and India needed to buy at least 200 such fighter jets to sharpen its military edge.
Air Chief Marshal Raha, who retires on December 31, also said the IAF’s Russian-origin Ilyushin-78 tanker fleet was plagued by maintenance problems and more midair refuellers were a “strategic requirement” to extend the range of fighter planes.
He said the IAF would require the 200 medium-weight fighters in the next five to 10 years, stressing the need for setting up a new production line in the country. “The Rafale is an excellent aircraft and it will prove its worth in any campaign. We have signed only 36…we require more aircraft in the medium-weight category,” Raha said, in his last media briefing as IAF chief.
India and France signed the Rafale deal on September 23, 2016, ending long-drawn-out negotiations that began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the deal during a Paris visit in April 2015. The planes, equipped with latest weapons and tailored for Indian needs, will be delivered to the IAF between September 2019 and April 2022.
The IAF has admitted it doesn’t have enough fighters to respond to a joint threat from China and Pakistan. It has 33 fighter squadrons, against the sanctioned 42.
Calling midair refuellers a significant “force enhancer,” Raha said the Il-78 fleet had served the IAF well but it’s availability for missions was poor due to maintenance problems. India floated a global tender for six midair refuellers in 2007 but it has been scrapped twice in the final stages.
“Sadly, there have been some problem areas in the acquisition. A new tender will be out soon,” he said.
Raha said the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base and the An-32 crash in which 29 people were killed were “the worst memories of my career.”
On the VVIP chopper scam, Raha said former air chief SP Tyagi, an accused in the case, was a member of the IAF family but there would be no sympathy for him if the charges were proved. He also said many agencies were involved in the acquisition and “you can’t pin the blame on one service.”