Amid the Congress party's claims that the Modi government denied the defence PSU an offset contract in the Rafale deal, Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh on Wednesday raised questions over the 'capability and condition' of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was necessary to enhance the Indian Air Force's capabilities, the minister said, as he defended the Rafale deal while talking to reporters in Pune.
"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.
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The minister was referring to the death of two pilots in a crash of Mirage 2000 trainer aircraft in Bengaluru on February 1.
The aircraft was on an "acceptance sortie" after an upgrade by the HAL.
On claims by the Congress that the Modi government had favoured industrialist Anil Ambani's firm in the Rafale deal, 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."
The opposition is trying to rake up the Rafale issue as a counter to the Bofors deal, he said, referring to the Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors in 1986 for 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.
In order to get the engine, India approached the US, who gave an "oversparred" engine, leading to the death of many pilots, he said.
"We had to scrap the programme. But later, the French approached us and our government allowed them to have a look at a static aircraft. Then they clicked several pictures of the aircraft and on that basis the series of Mirage aircraft started," he said.
"Had the then government compelled the GTRE to develop the engine, the country would have got its own aircraft and with advancements in technology, the country's indigenous aircraft would have been better than Rafale," he said.
"If they are accusing the present government on the Rafale deal, then the blame for the failure of HF-24 should go to the then government and I would like to call it treason as the entire data of HF-24 was wiped off without anybody's knowledge," he said.
Matters related to national security should not be politicised, the minister said, adding that India requires these 36 (Rafale) aircraft, in the absence of which the capability of the Indian Air Force will be hampered.
"It was necessary to purchase these 36 aircraft as the capabilities of the Indian Air force were depleting. If we keep pulling each others' legs, we will cause a major loss to the defence of the nation," he said.
On talks with Pakistan, the minister said when Modi became the prime minister in 2014, India showed a positive gesture to improve relations with the neighbouring country through dialogue.
"Our stand since 2014 was very clear as talks and terror activities cannot go hand-in-hand. Even today, we are firm on our stand," he said.