The remarks come amid claims by Indian opposition leaders about major corruption in the $8.7 billion deal for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) that was signed in 2016 and that Prime Minister Modi claimed left the IAF high and dry during the confrontation with Pakistan in late February.

India’s former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal A.Y. Tipnis has suggested that if India had had a promised fleet of French Rafale fighters at its disposal, they could have helped the Indian Air Force (IAF) destroy at least half of the Pakistani warplanes encountered during last month’s dogfight.

“The aim of the 24 Pakistan jets was to attack the Srinagar, Awantipora base. If India had had Rafale at that time, the IAF would have destroyed at least 12 of them. Rafale will boost the morale of the IAF,” AY Tipnis told a New Delhi security summit on Wednesday.

He referred to the February 27 air battle that erupted between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of a 14 February suicide attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy which left at least 40 soldiers dead and prompted an Indian air raid on alleged terrorist targets in the Pakistan-controlled region of Kashmir. During the dogfight, the IAF downed a Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter jet but lost a MiG-21 Bison warplane.

A.Y. Tipnis’s remarks come as New Delhi locks horns with the opposition over alleged corruption in the $8.7 billion deal for the purchase of 36 fighter jet for the Indian Air Force that was signed in government-to-government negotiations in 2016.

Earlier this week, the Indian government claimed that the leaking of documents pertaining to the Rafale deal, published by the newspaper The Hindu, not only breached the terms of the agreement with the vendor but also compromised national security.

The government alleged that the documents attached in the review petition by the plaintiff and subsequently accessed and published by media outlets, including The Hindu, contained sensitive information, including related to the aircraft's combat capability.

Earlier, the court issued the government a certificate of exoneration in response to several petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the purchase of the Rafale jets, alleging that the contract was awarded to Dassault Aviation in exchange for an agreement to award the offset contracts to certain industry players allegedly favoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The developments came after Modi accused the opposition of delaying the induction of Rafale fighters into the IAF by creating unnecessary controversy over the deal, while opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said it was Modi who had delayed the induction for the benefit of his personal business associates. 

The accusation followed Modi's claims that the National Congress party’s opposition to the 36-aircraft deal with France had led to a delay in delivery of the Rafale jets that left the IAF high and dry during the dogfight with Pakistan.