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SOURCE: TNN

Air Chief Marshal (retired) Arup Raha — Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force from 2013 to 2016 — spoke to TOI on myriad issues ranging from the Rafale deal to the need to procure modern defence equipment for the country. Raha also stressed the necessity to involve the private sector in defence manufacturing to augment India’s strategic strengths. He warned that cumbersome procurement procedures could affect India’s defence capabilities.

Q What do you make of the controversy surrounding the Rafale deal?

Ans: It is unfortunate that whenever a defence deal is signed for boosting the capabilities of our armed forces, such controversies paint everybody black with a broad brush. Be it Bofors or Rafale, the truth is we require these deals to defend ourselves. Once you begin raising doubts about the process, we lose confidence, the system loses confidence, and in the end our country loses confidence in us. Then no bureaucrat is ready to recommend or sign any new contract, fearing a reprimand from investigating agencies even after retiring from service.

Q The UPA government had signed a contract for 126 Rafale fighter aircraft. The NDA government plans to buy just 36 aircraft. Why is there such a gap in numbers?

Ans: Had 126 Rafale aircraft been inducted, it would have been the best thing for the country. However, the deal fell through due to some differences between Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) which was to manufacture the aircraft in India. Whatever the reason — quality control or costing — the deal came unstuck. During the UPA regime, the deal was that India will buy the first 18 aircraft in “fly away” condition. But now we are getting 36 aircraft straight off the shelf. Many don’t know that we will get a weapon fleet, maintenance training, performance-based logistics, and support-training infrastructure, which were not planned earlier.

Q As Air Chief Marshal, were you taken into confidence before the Rafale deal was signed?

Ans: I had a discussion with the defence minister at the time, Manohar Parrikar. We interacted on a daily basis. The government thought it needed to do something with utmost urgency or the Air Force would be affected. As a result it took a decision and I came to know that the deal had been signed.

Q How many squadrons does the IAF have?

Ans: As you may know, many aircraft in our fleets are old. We are replacing them. The numbers to be replaced are large. The Government of India has approved an authorized strength of 42 squadrons according to the threat perception. It will take time to replace all old aircrafts but there are many parallel schemes. Procurement of fifth-generation fighter aircraft from Russia is underway which could be another line of combat strength.

Q Did you note any difference in the procurement process under the UPA and NDA regimes?

Ans: Every government is trying to refine the procurement process, though it is very slow. It is a process-driven system and is not outcome-driven. The current government is taking the outcome-driven line, though not much is happening on the ground. I expected much faster certification of policies. All these years we ignored the private sector in defence manufacturing. Make in India will succeed only when we involve the private sector in defence.

Q How well are we placed against China?

Ans: There is no problem. The IAF is strong. The army on the ground is doing well. We have tremendous capabilities and there is no cause for concern over any threat. But yes, we want replacement of outdated equipment.