We raised number of Rafale to be bought in fly away condition: Sitharaman
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said the Congress allegations of reduction in the number of Rafale jets being purchased from France is baseless and asserted the Modi government is in fact buying 36 fighter jets in fly-away condition as against 18 proposed during the UPA regime.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses a press conference at IIM-Ahmedabad
The Congress has demanded the government explain why instead of 126 Rafale fighter jets, only 36 are being purchased if they were cheaper under the NDA deal than the one worked out by the UPA.
Denying suggestions that the controversy around the deal is tarnishing the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, she said the Congress campaign is based on "baseless" arguments.
The Congress campaign over the Rs 58,000-crore Rafale deal is almost sabotaging the Indian Armed Forces' operational readiness, the minister said.
Sitharaman alleged the support for the Congress campaign against Indian armed forces is reflected in our "not so friendly" neighbour Pakistan.
"Look at what the UPA's own deal was. At that time already number of our (IAF's) squadron were reduced to 32-33 from 44.
"In their deal also there was a provision of purchase of 18 fighter jets in fly away conditions, and rest were to be later produced," she said, replying to a query on why the number of Rafale being purchased from France was reduced from 126 to 36.
"In fact, we increased the number of fly away condition purchase from one squadron (18) to two squadron (36). Looking at the emergency requirement, the Prime Minister (Modi), when he went to France, inquired what can be delivered immediately.
"And on the basis of that this figure (36 jets) was finalised," she said, adding the first of the planes will be available to India in September 2019.
Regarding the remaining number of fighter aircraft, the defence minister said the procedure to acquire them for the Indian Air Force is going on.
"So the numbers has not been reduced," she stressed.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram had earlier sought to know why the BJP-led NDA government was buying so few Rafale fighter jets if they were cheaper as claimed by it.
Talking to reporters in Tamil Nadu, Chidambaram had said the UPA government had decided to buy 126 Rafale aircraft.
"They claimed that the fighter jet was cheaper...In that case they should tell how they (jets) are cheaper...They are not revealing...besides if the cost of the plane is cheaper then why not buy more jets? why is the government buying only 36 jets?," the former Union minister had said.
Asked about the cost of one Rafale fighter jet bought under the NDA deal, Sitharaman said the figure has already been revealed on the floor of Parliament.
Asked if the controversy over the deal is tarnishing her government's image, she replied in the negative.
"But I am afraid, the campaign which the Congress is doing with half truth and baseless arguments is almost sabotaging Indian Armed Forces' operational readiness.
"And strangely the support for the Congress campaign against our armed forces is reflected from our not so friendly neighbour," she said, without naming Pakistan.
Asked about the perception that armed forces officers are fielded to spell out government's view on defence deals, she said the government neither tells them to speak on any issue nor stops them from speaking on any subject.
She declined to elaborate on the statement of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that "appropriate" action has been taken to avenge the death of a BSF solider at the hands of Pakistan.
She also refused to say anything on airspace violation by a Pakistan helicopter in Jammu and Kashmir, saying it is a very sensitive issue.