Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the government chose to procure only 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France in 2015, instead of the 126 being negotiated by the previous government, as infrastructure and other technical requirements of the Indian Air Force (IAF) do not allow for greater induction.
“Every time you induct one squadron (standard fleet of 18 aircraft), there is a requirement for a lot of other paraphernalia to come in. Given a set of parameters, if you quickly want to induct, two is the ideal,” Sitharaman told The Indian Express in an interview.
“Air Force Technical Details will tell you, that for any emergency-based induction, it is always two squadrons and not more than that. So that justifies why we settled for two. Because in ready, flyway condition, that is all you can induct, otherwise you have to spend a lot more on creating other paraphernalia for bringing in,” she added, “at a time for us to procure, beyond two squadrons, infrastructure and other things would not have been possible, therefore we settled for two.”
The Defence Minister defended her decision to state at her first press conference in the Ministry last year that she would give the price details of the Rafale deal. She said that she meant only the basic price of the French aircraft (Rs 670 crore) which had been mentioned in Parliament.
“I have thought about it as I have been asked by a lot of people but I have not answered it, but I have thought over it several times,” Sitharaman said, “I asked the Defence Secretary to give the basic price…that was a conscious decision. I could not have answered so I made him answer.”
In response to a question about her likely reaction when Dassault informs her Ministry that it has chosen Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as an offset partner, Sitharaman said that all procedures will be followed as applicable for any offset discharge.
“Isn’t that a decision of a commercial enterprise to take on their own? I have nothing to do with it, I have not prompted them, not led him, not told them, I have not instructed them, so why am I be worried by what he would tell me? It may be A, B or C, it may be 70 different partners, it may be buying a product, they may be investing, it may be buying a service, so where am I in it? And how can I tell him you can say this and you cannot say that. Whatever he tells, and claims about obligation fulfilled, I have to hear them out,” Sitharaman said about Reliance Defence being chosen as Dassault’s offset partner.
The minister also dismissed the claim that asking Russians to not make rifles in India with the Adani group was a violation of the government policy to promote defence manufacturing in private sector.
“When it is an Inter-governmental agreement for us to have the production done here and I have the existing capacities for producing guns in India, through my OFBs (Ordnance Factory Board), I would prefer to have them produce it through an OFB. Over and above that if they want to produce with anybody, I have no issues,” she said, explaining her decision that all foreign rifle manufacturers would have to choose OFB as the partner.
Sitharaman also explained the Nepal Army’s decision to not participate in the BIMSTEC exercise as arising out of non-protocol customary things when a new chief takes over the Nepal Army.
“It is not a snub, only recently a person has taken charge (as Army Chief). There are some protocol and non-protocol customary things that I am told they do before they get into nitty-gritties and these are all fixed. As a result of that, he has legitimately excused himself,” she said.
Sitharaman also said that India is willing to consider the third defence foundational agreement, BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) with the USA and had asked the US government for its text. This was discussed during the recent 2+2 meeting where India signed the COMCASA pact with the US.
On China, the Minister said that notwithstanding the spirit of Wuhan, the troops are on alert on the China border. She said that she is hopeful about a military hotline between top headquarters of the two armies being established soon.