Bangalore: The deal for procuring 126 French- made Rafale multirole combat aircraft is the highest priority for the Air Force against the backdrop of a cut in the defence budget, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said on Thursday.
The IAF Chief said the contract negotiations for the deal were going on track and it was expected to be finalised by the middle of this year.
"The deal for procuring 126 multirole combat aircraft is highest priority for us," he told a press conference at the Aero India show here.
He listed the procurement of additional six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, 22 Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook helicopters as the other priority areas for the force.
The IAF Chief was asked to list his force`s priorities in terms of procurement in view of the Defence Ministry directive in this regard in the wake of the budget-cut decision.
The ministry has asked the three Services to first procure only those equipment which have a direct bearing on their operational preparedness.
Asked about the role of certain companies in the aircraft deal, he said, "The OEM (original equipment manufacturer) has full right to select partners if he wants to supply kits to the IAF. The IAF or the government have no issues with it."
Browne made it clear that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would be lead integrator of the project.
On the IAF`s plans to have more than 300-400 aircraft in the next ten years, he said this would include the 126 Rafale combat planes and several types of transport aircraft and helicopters which would be inducted in 10 to 12 years.
On the capabilities of the Chinese Y-20 aircraft, Browne said, "It appears to be a strategic airlift aircraft in the class of perhaps C-17 with 70 tonnes load carrying capability."
He said the engines on the Chinese machine seemed to be Russian DPK-02, which are also used to power the Ilyushin-76 aircraft but not as good as the ones on the C-17.
The IAF Chief said it is to be seen how it performs the strategic roles in the future.
On the Israeli `Iron Dome` missile protection system, he said it was used effectively against the Palestinian small rocket attacks but Indian borders were far too long.
He said the Iron Dome "was not an answer to the Indian environment."
Asked to explain his recent remark for imposing penalties on delays in completion of defence projects, Browne said such penalties were imposed in other countries and they act as a deterrent against such companies.
He suggested that a clause in this regard should be included in the Indian procurement procedures also.
On the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft programme, he said the project would enter the "mother of all phases" next month as India and Russia discuss the research and development phase of it.
Browne said the production of the aircraft is expected to begin only in 2022.