Pune: On Wednesday, Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh raised questions over the "capability and condition" of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) amid the Congress' claim that the Modi government denied the defence PSU an offset contract in the Rafale deal. Talking to reporters here, the minister defended the Rafale deal, saying the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was necessary to enhance the Indian Air Force's capabilities.
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." He further added that "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 also state that "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 "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,".
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. 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.