Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday took a sortie in Rafale fighter aircraft after an official handover ceremony of the first jet acquired by the Indian Air Force.
“By February 2021, we will get delivery of 18aircraft and by April-May 2022 we will get all 36 aircraft. This is a part of our self-defence and not a sign of aggression against anyone. It is a deterrent,” the Defence Minister said.
Rajnath, who is on a three-day visit to France, said the handover event marks a new milestone in Indo-France relations. “I am happy that the delivery of Rafale aircraft is on schedule, I am confident that this will add further strength to our Air Force. I wish cooperation between our two major democracies further increases in all sectors,” he said.
“Today marks a new milestone in India-France strategic partnership. I look forward to taking a sortie in the Rafale aircraft,” he said. This was Rajnath’s second sortie in a fighter jet in a span of a month. He earlier flew in the indigenously built aircraft LCA Tejas which was recently inducted in the Indian Air Force.
Earlier in the day, Rajnath met French President Emmanuel Macron and held discussions on strengthening India-France defence and strategic ties. He was then flown to Mérignac in a french military aircraft where he officially received the Rafale jet. He performed Shastra Puja on the occasion of Dusshera which coincides with the 87th Air Force Day being marked in India.
Ahead of his talks with Macron, Singh also held discussions with French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly. Admiral Bernard Rogel, Defence Advisor to the French President, was also part of the meeting.
“We have a multi-dimensional relationship with France and the ties are progressing on all fronts. The talks today are part of a comprehensive defence dialogue between the two countries,” defence secretary Ajay Kumar was quoted as saying by PTI.
Later in the day, Rajnath was flown to Mérignac, a suburb of the south-western French town of Bordeaux, where he was given a tour of the Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s facility.
Air Chief Rakesh Bhadauria’s initials on first Rafale jet
The first Rafale jet will come with tail number RB 001, with RB denoting the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria who played a key role in striking the deal for the jets in his previous role as IAF deputy chief. Bhadauria took charge of the IAF on September 01 after the retirement of former chief ACM BS Dhanoa.
India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016. While the formal handover ceremony took place today, the first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020. The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft.
The aircraft will be deployed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there. The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base. The manufacturers describe it as a fully versatile aircraft which can carry out all combat aviation missions to achieve air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence. With the IAF fleet phasing out the Migs, Rafale will boost its inventory to gain air superiority in the region.