Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa today strongly defended the government's decision to procure only 36 Rafale fighter jets against the original proposal of 126 aircraft, saying there have been similar "emergency" acquisitions in the past.
The air force is reeling under a severe shortage of fighter aircraft at a time India faces security challenges from two nuclear-powered neighbours, the air chief marshal said, adding that the purchase of 36 Rafale jets (two squadrons) will help the Indian Air Force deal with the situation.
One squadron of fighter jets comprises 16-18 aircraft.
"Whenever the government felt the air power element of the defence forces is likely to be in a disadvantageous position, it has gone in for emergency purchases of the aircraft under the umbrella of the inter-governmental agreement," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said, addressing a seminar on IAF's force restructuring.
"The history is that the government had undertaken emergency purchase of fighter aircraft on several occasions in the past," he said.
The previous UPA government was negotiating a deal with French aerospace giant Dassault Aviation, the makers of the Rafale, for procuring 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). However the deal could not be completed.
"By providing the Rafale and S-400, the government is strengthening the Indian Air Force to counter the shortfalls of our depleting numbers," he said.
The government is also procuring a batch of S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia.
The Modi government inked a government-to-government deal with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore on September 23, 2016. The delivery of the aircraft will start from September 2019.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal and has attacked the government for procuring just 36 jets when the Air Force required 126.
Justifying the decision to go for only two Rafale squadrons, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said India procured two squadrons of MiG 23 MF jets after Pakistan received the first lot of F-16 aircraft in 1983.
In 1985, he said two squadrons of Mirage 2000 were procured from France, and later two squadrons of MiG 29 were purchased from the then Soviet Union "All these procurements were under the umbrella of the inter-governmental agreement (IGA)," he said.
He added that acquisitions under inter-governmental agreement are "faster" and the quickest means of achieving operational capability of the Indian Air Force.
IAF chief said the force currently has 31 squadrons of fighter jets against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons. "Even when we do have 42 squadrons, we will be below the combined numbers of two of our regional adversaries," he said, referring to China and Pakistan.