Pune: While Congress claims that the Modi government denied Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) an offset contract in the Rafale deal, Minister of State for External Affairs Vijay Kumar Singh cast doubts on the state-run defence firm’s “capability and condition.” Defending the government’s Rafale deal, Singh said the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was essential to boost the capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Earlier this month, two pilots died after an Indian Air Force Mirage-2000 trainer aircraft crashed at the edge of the HAL airport compound in Bengaluru, soon after taking off. The aircraft was on an “acceptance sortie” after an upgrade by the PSU defence company.
HAL programmes late by over 3 years
“Look at the condition of HAL. Our two pilots died. Sorry to say, but the programmes at HAL are running late by three-and-a-half years. Parts of aircraft are falling off on the runway. Is this capability? On the other hand, we say that HAL is not getting the (Rafale) work,” he said.
Amid the Opposition’s accusations that the government had preferred industrialist Anil Ambani’s firm in the Rafale deal because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favouritism, the former Army chief said, “In Rafale case, it is the French, who decided the offset firm. The objective of the offset is to allow the industry to thrive here. If their firm is not satisfied with HAL, it is their decision. It is not the decision of the Indian government.”
As a counter to the Bofors deal, Congress attempted to bring up the Rafale issue, Singh said while referring to the Rs 1,437-crore deal between the country and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors in 1986 for the supply of 400 units of 155-mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army.
“In the ’60s, we came up with an indigenous design of Hindustan Fighter 24 — Marut. But the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), which was assigned to develop an engine for the aircraft, failed to do so and we had to look at importing the engine,” he said.