NEW DELHI: Even as the race for the “mother of all defence deals” enters the last lap, two IAS officers of the defence ministry are now under the scanner for the mysterious way in which a “secret” file connected to the $10.4 billion project to acquire 126 new fighters went missing and was then found by a roadside.
Ordering an inquiry into the episode, defence minister A K Antony on Monday said he was “very clear that every officer has to be very careful at every stage” while dealing with the huge MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project. “We have viewed the incident seriously…the inquiry is in progress,” he said. It was last week that the “secret” file, which was earlier submitted to the MoD by IAF, went missing and was then found later in the day near Khelgaon Marg in South Delhi.
The file dealt with the technical offsets evaluation of the bids submitted by the six global aviation majors, whose fighters have already been extensively trial evaluated by IAF pilots over the last couple of years.
The MMRCA contract specifies an obligation of 50% offsets, under which the foreign aviation major who is finally selected will be required to plough half of the contract forex value back into India.
MoD was tight-lipped about the incident but sources said the file was apparently lost by the bureaucrats, one an additional secretary-rank officer and the other a director, while being taken to the Bharat Electronics Limited guest-house on Khelgaon Marg. The file was found by a security guard who then got in touch with the authorities concerned.
The episode has evoked widespread concern since the gigantic MMRCA project is being bitterly contested by the six vendors. The fighters in the race are the American F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’ ( Boeing) and F-16 ‘Falcon’ ( Lockheed Martin) Russian MiG-35 (RAC MiG), Swedish Gripen (Saab), French Rafale (Dassault) and Eurofighter Typhoon (consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies).
“A single file or document cannot, of course, influence the process of selection. But the offsets file is definitely commercially sensitive for the vendors in terms of who they are tying up with in India, among other things,” said a senior official.