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Sunday February 23, 2020

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The anniversary issue of DSA coincides with events that mark Air Force Day. Over the years, the October issue has always highlighted the role and contributions made by the air force. And, things that need to be done to make it an even better service. The recurring theme has always been about budgeting constraints and delays in decision-making so as to ensure that the service gets its authorised number of squadrons. The theme would have been repeated this year as well but unfortunately, Air Headquarters has needlessly entered the fray.


The burgeoning controversy over the Rafale deal is now the stuff of news networks, anchors, and copy-editors. In essence, it is about India paying more per aircraft than it was originally meant to or had agreed to. The choice of Indian partner is another matter in the mayhem. The main issue remains of pricing. Former French President Hollande’s entry into the debate is essentially aimed at keeping his partner out of the controversy, because of conflict of interest concerns. None of which are issues within the domain interests of Air Headquarters, so it is surprising that senior officers have jumped into the acrimonious debate, lending voices when none are warranted.

Both by precedence and by procedures, Air Headquarters would have nothing to do with the pricing of the aircraft. It is a purely a matter of Ministry of Defence with Service HQs involved in giving technical inputs and with a token presence on the pricing committee. So, when senior air force officers join the debate, and even declares that those opposing are ignorant, there is a serious issue at stake. Why is the Service HQs being brought into what is essentially a political debate? Or, why is it allowed to be dragged into a slugfest it cannot even remotely influence?

These are critical issues that need to be addressed now as they are likely to have long-term consequences, most importantly, within the three services. Autonomy of the Service HQs must be respected now and at all times. If that autonomy is violated, the impact is intangible but deep and longlasting. The domain that the Service HQs occupy must remain their purview and theirs alone. Much like how all defence lands are protected.

In the same vein, Service HQs must not encroach into domains that it is not raised, trained, authorised or responsible for; most important being the domain of political slugfests. The country is in election mode and every controversy is going to be raked up. But when Service HQ is not responsible for making the Rafale issue into a controversy; why get into the debate at all! Staying away from it makes the Service HQs immune from allegations of manipulation, which, once they stick, are difficult to wash-off. Being looking, and sounding squeaky clean is best policy for servicemen, even if it doesn’t work for politicians.

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