France’s Dassault Aviation said on Monday it had received a contract from the French government to upgrade the Rafale fighter jet. The so-called F4 version of the multi-role Rafale, which is being developed for a reported investment of €2 billion, will include greater connectivity to allow “networked combat,” Dassault said in a statement.The company added that the validation of the F4 standard is planned for 2024 and that some features will be available from 2022.
The French government inked the contract with the aircraft maker on January 14. However, news of the order, and the fact that Dassault will deliver Rafale aircraft to the French government under an older order resulted in some confusion with some websites reporting that the 28 aircraft were being bought by France for €2 billion. The Congress was quick to react.
“India is paying €7.8 billion for 36 Rafale aircraft. France is paying €2 billion for 28 upgraded Rafale aircraft. Can the person with Entire Political Science degree do the math? #ChowkidarChorHai,” the Congress tweeted from its twitter handle.
The government and the Congress have been trading charges over the controversial ?59,000-crore purchase.
Top defence ministry officials said a deal to buy aircraft could not be compared with another to just develop a new model.
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government had already given out all details on the Rafale deal and it was a closed chapter now. Defence ministry officials rued the fact that every new development related to Rafale in any part of the world sparks a fresh debate in India.
The National Democratic Alliance government’s decision to enter into a government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes was announced in April 2015 with the deal signed a little over a year later. This replaced the United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by HAL using parts imported from France.
The deal has become contentious and controversial with opposition parties, including the Congress, saying the new deal cost more, that due process wasn’t followed in its signing, and that it was done to benefit Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence which has signed an offset deal with Dassault.
The government has maintained that the price is actually lower than the one in the old deal, and that offset deals do not involve the government. Dassault and Reliance have also insisted there is no wrongdoing in the case. The Supreme Court has said, while ruling on petitions seeking an investigation into the deal, that it was convinced that due process was followed and that it did not want to get into the issue of pricing.
Aam Aadmi Party member of Parliament and petitioner in the Rafale case, Sanjay Singh, on Monday filed a review petition in the Supreme Court asking it to review the December 14, 2018 judgment dismissing pleas demanding a court-monitored CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets.
Seeking an open court hearing and a re-look at its judgment which was based on “misinformation by the government”, Sanjay Singh in his petition asked the apex court to initiate contempt proceedings against officials responsible for it.
This is the second review petition to be filed in the matter. Earlier, former BJP minister Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan filed a review petition saying the judgment relied upon “patently incorrect claims” made by the government in a sealed cover to the SC.
Separately, the Comptroller and Auditor General has refused to disclose details about its audit in the controversial Rafale aircraft deal, saying the process is not yet complete and any disclosure at this stage will amount to breach of the Parliament’s privilege, an RTI reply said.
In its response to Pune-based activist Vihar Durve who had sought the report from CAG, the country’s auditor said, “The audit is under progress and the report is yet to be finalised. The information cannot be given under Section 8(1)(C) of the RTI Act as the disclosure would cause breach of Parliament.” The RTI act exempts information the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the state legislatures.