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Rafale jets a must-buy: IAF chief wrote to Defence minister

In the first week of November, an apprehensive Indian Air Force (IAF) wrote to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to underline that the political controversy around the Rafale deal should not endanger the purchase of the fighters from France, a senior defence ministry official aware of the development said requesting anonymity. A spokesperson for IAF declined to comment on the issue.

The Supreme Court was at the time hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from France. The PIL was dismissed by the court last Friday. Air Chief Marshal Brinder Singh Dhanoa in his letter to Sitharaman drew the government’s attention to the depleting strength of fighter squadrons of IAF, the official said.

IAF needs a minimum of 42 fighter squadrons (each squadron has between 14-16 fighters) to maintain a credible deterrence along the Western and Northern Borders but has only 31 fighter squadrons. It will lose more fighter squadrons in the coming months.

Dhanoa told the government that 36 fighters were essential for IAF and any uncertainty over the acquisition would severely affect its fighting and deterrence capabilities, a second senior defence ministry official who didn’t want to be named said. In addition, Dhanoa also advised the government against revealing the pricing details.

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