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Rafale, S-400 air-defence systems booster dose, says Air Force chief

Indian Air Force chief BS Dhanoa on Wednesday defended the deal to purchase Rafale fighter jets from France, calling the aircraft a “game-changer”.

“We have got a good package, got a lot of advantages in Rafale deal,” Dhanoa said in Delhi, rejecting allegations that the fighters were overpriced.

The IAF chief’s strong defence of the decision to buy the jets comes against the backdrop of sharp attacks from the Congress-led opposition that accuses the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of negotiating an overpriced deal to buy 36 fighter jets in flyaway condition from France.

He said the orginal negotiations to purchase 126 Rafale jets had hit an impasse and couldn’t be translated into a contract. “So we could have kept negotiating and waiting for something to happen or withdraw the request for proposal or go in for emergency purchase of 36 planes. The government took a bold step and bought 36 jets,” he said at his customary press conference ahead of Indian Air Force Day on October 8.

The Congress has also criticised the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for selecting Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group over HAL for an offset deal in the $8.7-billion purchase of the jet initiated in 2016.

Dhanoa said Dassault Aviation, Rafale’s manufacturer, selected the offset partner and the government and Indian Air Force had no role. The air chief also called the purchase of Rafale and the S-400 missile system from Russia as a game changer for the Air Force.

The government’s decision to enter a $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale planes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015. The formal agreement was signed a little over a year later.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley had rejected much of the opposition criticism on the deal, insisting that the basic aircraft price finalised by the NDA government was actually 9 per cent cheaper.

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