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NEW DELHI: The first squadron of Tejas fighter jets will be flying before Diwali, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, adding that the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) is as good as Rafale, even though its load carrying capacity and range is lesser.
He also said that by the year-end, the government will decide on which multi-role fighter jets will be manufactured in the country.
In an interview to All India Radio, the minister stressed that the Indian Air Force can get two Tejas fighters at the price of one Rafale jet.
"In the air force, a new fighter has not been inducted since 1994. Tejas was stuck for 32 years. Now, two planes have been supplied and a few more will be supplied in a couple of months," Parrikar said.
"The first squadron of Tejas will be ready by September-October and it will be flying before Diwali," the minister said.
"Our Tejas has the same qualities as Rafale. Although Tejas is in lightweight category, with its range also half compared with Rafale, but in terms of avionics, electronics and firepower it is no less than Rafale," he said."One Rafale fighter is worth approximately Rs 700 crore to Rs 750 crore while an Su-30 costs about Rs 475 crore. Compared to these planes, India's Tejas is in the range of Rs 200 crore to Rs 250 crore only. We can get two Tejas at the price of one Rafale," the minister said.
Parrikar said concluding the deal to buy Rafale fighters from Dassault Aviation of France will take a "few more weeks", and added that the negotiations on price was important.
"You will have to bring down the cost. If you throw away the price they demand, our coffers will soon be empty," he said.Asked about the plans to manufacture the multi-role fighter jets in the country, Parrikar said: "By the end of this year, a decision will be taken on which fighter aircraft will be made in India. We have not decided yet whether we will make the F-18, Eurofighter, Rafale or Griffin."
On the dip in the numbers of IAF squadrons, the defence minister said the gap will be bridged soon. "The sanctioned strength of fighter squadrons is 42, but 100 percent is never reached. We have 34 squadrons at present. In the next three to four years, four to five squadrons of Tejas will be added
; a few more squadrons of Sukhoi will also come. By then two squadrons of Rafale jets will also come," Parrikar said.
The minister, asked about the new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), said its effects will be visible from next year. In the next seven to eight years, the ratio of imports in defence equipments may come down to 30 to 35 per cent, making India "almost self-reliant", Parrikar said. The minister said the ratio of import in military hardware has come down from 70 per cent to 63 per cent at present.
"If every year the decrease is five to ten per cent, in the next five years, it can come under 40 per cent. When it comes under 30 per cent, we will be more or less self-dependent. Some items are such that manufacturing them in the country is not profitable. It is better to buy (from abroad) because the cost and numbers do not justify domestic production," he said.