NSA Doval, defence top brass brief Union ministers on the deal to help them counter Opposition charges.
The Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force on Wednesday gave a strong endorsement of the Rafale fighter jets, saying it will give India an 'unprecedented' combat advantage, as the Supreme Court agreed to hear next week a plea seeking a stay on the controversial deal with France.
As the government remained under attack from the Congress and other opposition parties on the escalating Rafale row, the country's top security brass also gave a briefing to the Union Council of Ministers in a bid to provide the National Democratic Alliance leaders with facts to counter the allegations of favouritism and corruption levelled against it.
Describing Rafale as a 'beautiful' aircraft, Air Marshal S B Deo, the Vice Chief of the IAF, said those criticising the deal must understand the procurement norms.
Deo said 'all discussions on the deal' were taking place as people do not have adequate information about the procurement procedure.
"We are waiting for the aircraft to come. It is a beautiful aircraft. It is a very capable aircraft. It is a capability that we need quickly," he said on the sidelines of an event when asked about the controversy surrounding the Rafale deal.
Asked about allegations relating to the Rs 58,000 crore deal, Deo said 'all the discussions are taking place as people do not have information'.
"They should read DPP (defence procurement procedure) and offset policy," he said, adding the jets will give India 'unprecedented' combat advantage.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, claiming the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,600 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government. The government has rejected the charges.
At the Supreme Court, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud considered the submissions of advocate M L Sharma that his plea on the Rafale deal be listed for urgent hearing.
In his petition, Sharma has alleged discrepancies in the jet deal and sought a stay on it.
Sharma claimed in his plea that the inter-governmental agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets must be quashed as it was an 'outcome of corruption' and not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 (Parliament has power to make any law for implementing any inter-government agreement) of the Constitution.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
During their briefing at the meeting of the Union Council of Ministers, the country's top security brass said the cost of the Rafale jet is based on equipment and weapons that will be married to the jet.
A senior official said National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Secretary, Defence Production, Ajay Kumar highlighted various aspects of the deal at the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours.
The ministers were informed that the Rafale contract was a deal between two governments involving no private party, leaving little scope for corruption.
The security brass also highlighted the aircraft's capability which would strengthen the IAF and make the fighter jets an asset for it.
The presentation underscores Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to take all his allies, who are represented in the council of ministers, on board as the government works to counter the opposition on the issue with the Lok Sabha election being less than eight months away.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi accused the Modi government of adopting 'double standards' in approving offset contracts for defence deals asking why it did not adopt the same yardstick in the Rafale deal when it had disapproved Russia's move to grant offset contracts to a private player for AK-103 rifles.
Singhvi said a 'fallacious argument' of the Modi government on Rafale has been nipped in the bud by its own recent negotiations in another defence deal with Russia for manufacturing AK-rifles.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while refusing to get into the details of what transpired in the meeting, took a dig at the Congress and its chief Rahul Gandhi over the fighter jet deal.
Responding to a question, he said, "Congress has proved that in a dynastic party, ignorance is contagious... if one lacks information, all are ignorant."
Jaitley said questioning the deal is the 'biggest ignorance'.
He said a basic aircraft is of 'no use' as it can only fly the pilot. He said cost escalation and currency variations between 2007 and 2016 have to be considered.
He also pointed out that a weaponised jet is 20 per cent cheaper now after the negotiations. Since it is a government-to-government deal, no private party or a PSU is involved.
"The 36 jets will come in a fly away condition and not even a bolt will be fitted here ... during UPA (rule), they did not believe in transfer of technology but preferred to buy (hardware) from foreign buyers ...," he said.
Referring to Bofors howitzer gun deal, he said while bribes can be taken, the weapons could not be manufactured here.
Jaitley said after increasing Foreign Direct Investment to 49 per cent several international defence major are tying up with Indian companies to manufacture defence hardware here.
He said the government has also ensured that defence PSUs get sufficient orders. He said side by side the government also believes in helping the private sector.
The functionary, meanwhile, said the presentation in the meeting also underscored Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to take all his allies, who are represented in the council of ministers, on board, as the government works to counter the opposition on the issue in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections which are less than eight months away.
The presentation was made before the ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, who will reach out to the people all across the country on the achievements of the government under a week-long campaign.
IAF carries out first ever mid-air refuelling of Tejas light combat jet
The Indian Air Force said on Wednesday it has successfully carried out the first ever mid air refuelling of the indigenously developed Tejas light combat aircraft, a major milestone in its development cycle.
A Russian-built IL-78 MKI tanker transferred fuel to a Tejas MK I aircraft on Tuesday.
"The tanker was launched from IAF's base in Agra while the fighter was launched from Gwalior. The specially modified Tejas aircraft carried out a series of test profiles including a 'dry contact' with the tanker," the IAF said.
It said a second Tejas aircraft was deployed to observe the exercise closely.
The mid-air refueling of Tejas came three months after it successfully fired an air-to-air beyond visual (BVR) range missile.
The IAF had ordered 40 Tejas Mark-1 version and a request for proposal (RFP) was issued to HAL by the IAF in December for procurement of another batch of 83 Tejas at a cost of around Rs 50,000 crore.
"All flight parameters of Tejas aircraft were transmitted live to a ground control unit set-up at Gwalior airbase, wherein ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) scientists constantly monitored the technical parameters of the mission," it said.
Prior to the test flight, extensive ground trials were conducted in all possible conditions under the supervision of ADA scientists.
"The success of these trials is a major leap for the indigenous fighter.The ability to carry out air-to-air refuelling is one of the critical requirements for Tejas to achieve 'final operational clearance'," said the IAF.