IAF chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne on Friday cautioned against weakening of force levels if the $20-billion deal to acquire modern fighter planes is delayed further.
India had last January picked French firm Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jet over Eurofighter’s Typhoon in a hotly-contested contract to equip the air force with 126 advanced combat aircraft.
“The planes are very critical for the IAF. If induction doesn’t begin by 2017, force levels will go down rapidly,” Browne said at a press briefing ahead of the IAF’s 81st anniversary on October 8.
Contract negotiations have been on with Dassault Aviation for more than 18 months, with both sides currently involved in ironing out issues concerning the work share of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Dassault will supply 18 fighter planes to the IAF in flyaway condition, while the remaining 108 will be licence-produced by HAL. The fist plane will fly in three years after the contract is signed.
Browne had in February asserted that the contract --- the world’s biggest fighter deal --- would be inked by July 2013. But the air chief on Friday refused to give a timeline for the deal being finalised.
The recent death of a joint secretary, who was spearheading the negotiations, is also likely to delay the deal.
There’s a growing uncertainty within the IAF over whether the deal would be signed with the UPA government’s term.
Asked if the air force has any back up plans in case the arrival of new fighters is delayed, Browne said, “In my opinion, the right thing is to stick to one plan. We will lose our way if we keep having back up plans.”