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More Sukhois to add wings to IAF

Defence minister Antony says there is no question of deals being put on the back burner, reports Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2006 16:35 IST

Defence minister AK Antony on Saturday sought to dispel doubts that military acquisitions would suffer while he's at the helm of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as he would remain shackled by his "clean image" and would be chary of taking critical decisions. To prove his point, Antony said the defence acquisition council (DAC) had already cleared the decks for the purchase of additional Su-30 MKIs for the IAF from Russia.

In his first formal interaction with the media after assuming office in October, the defence minister emphasised that there was no question of defence deals being put on the backburner and his endeavour would be to ensure that the requirements of the armed forces were met as quickly as possible.

Asked if there had been any forward movement as regards the purchase of 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the IAF, he said the MoD had taken a decision and the air force would be getting the fighters at the earliest. The ministry has been sitting on the request for proposal (RFP) for the $7 billion MRCA deal for almost two years, despite steady depletion of IAF's combat power.

In fact, in a letter addressed to former defence minister Pranab Mukherjee in July, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi had underlined that unless immediate steps were taken to arrest the depleting force levels, the nation would for the first time in its history lose conventional air superiority over Pakistan.

Tyagi had requested the government to issue the RFP for the fighter aircraft at the earliest and also put the acquisition of 40 additional Su-30 MKIs from Russia on fast track. Antony said, "The DAC has cleared the Sukhoi deal. The thrust is on bringing in reforms with transparency and transparency does not necessarily mean delay." It will now be put up before the Cabinet Committee on Security for final approval.

The squadron strength of the IAF currently stands at 33 against the sanctioned 39 and half, and the number could touch a low of 26-27 by 2015.

Earlier, the defence minister and the three service chiefs paid floral tributes at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate to mark the 35th anniversary of Vijay Diwas, which commemorates Indian victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

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First Published: Dec 16, 2006 16:35 IST