Top Secret MMRCA file goes missing

In a major security lapse , a top secret file of Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) had gone missing and then been recovered in mysterious circumstances. The Indian Air Chief dismissed these reports as ‘nothing earth-shaking’ and stated that these events wont effect the contract which is expected to be signed later this year. The file went missing in the last week of December 2010 and was later found by the roadside on Khelgaon Marg in South Delhi. “The file has got nothing earth-shaking and it has nothing to do with national security. It is not going to affect the deal,” the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, told reporters here on the sidelines of a defence function.

The  file dealt with the offset plans of MMRCA contract which is a 42,000-crore (over $11-billion) deal for the acquisition of 126 (fighter aircrafts). The tendering process for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), initiated in August 2007, has entered its final phase after the IAF carried out the flight and weapons evaluation of the six fighter planes competing for the contract. The contenders include US majors Lockheed Martin’s F-16 , Boeing’s F/A-18 , Russian MiG-RAC’s MiG-35, French Dassault’s Rafale, Swedish Saab’s Gripen and European consortium EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon.

The IAF confirms that an inquiry had been ordered after the file was recovered but did not disclose the circumstances in which the file was recovered. The IAF also refused to confirm a TV report which claimed that the file had been found on the roadside in South Delhi’s Khel Gaon Marg by a security guard.

‘The IAF inquiry is into whether correct procedures in handling confidential documents were followed or not. That inquiry is nearing completion. By and large, the procedures were followed. The file was handed over to the ministry nice and proper,’ IAF chief P.V. Naik quoted. A top IAF officer stated that a “secret” file had gone missing after it was sent to the ministry of defence (MoD), but there was no official comment or confirmation from the MoD in this regard. The top IAF source said the inquiry would be conducted jointly by the IAF and the MoD since the file belonged to the IAF and had gone missing after it was sent to the MoD. The file was marked “secret” but was not in the most sensitive “top secret” category, IAF sources said.

Incidentally, India’s offset policy makes it mandatory for foreign companies to invest at least 30 per cent of the amount in India for any armament procurement valued at 300 crore or more. However the government had earlier finalised a 50 per cent offset clause in some of the big-ticket defence deals which run into billions of dollars. Also the issue of offsets had reportedly become a major point of contention between the MoD and some of the global vendors amid concerns that this may affect the pace of military modernisation.

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