More than a month after the first five Rafale fighter jets arrived in India on July 29, they will be formally inducted as part of the 17 Squadron, nicknamed Golden Arrows, on Thursday. The ceremony at Ambala Air Force Station will be attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly.
These five jets are the first batch of the total 36 aircraft that India had bought off-the-shelf through an inter-governmental deal from France in September 2016 for Rs 59,000 crore. The next batch of the jets is likely to arrive in October, and the last of the 36 aircraft will come to India by end of 2021. Since the arrival of the five jets, the focus had been to operationalise the aircraft at the earliest. The pilots and groundcrew had undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, including the highly advanced weapons systems, before that.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria will also be “present to mark a very important milestone in the history of the IAF”, the Air Force said in a statement on Wednesday.
Apart from Parly, the French delegation will include France’s ambassador to India Emmanuel Lenain, Air General Eric Autellet, Vice Chief of Air Staff of the French Air Force, among other senior officials, and Eric Trappier, the chief executive of Dassault Aviation, the French company that manufactures Rafale.
One of her first official trips since the Covid-19 outbreak, this will be Parly’s third official visit to India since 2017.
The defence ministers will hold bilateral discussions after the induction ceremony. Parly is also scheduled to meet National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
“These talks will further President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to deepen and expand the Indo-French partnership, with strategic autonomy and the defence of a multipolar order as its cornerstones,” the French embassy said in a statement. On the occasion Parly will “strengthen France’s forward-looking defence cooperation with India, its foremost Asian strategic partner”, it added.
The “broad-ranging talks will cover, among others, industrial and technological partnership in line with the Make in India programme; operational defence cooperation, particularly maritime security in the Indo-Pacific; modalities of continuing the armed forces’ joint exercises in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic; counter-terrorism cooperation; as well as major regional and international strategic issues”, the French embassy stated.
The ceremony at Ambala will include a ceremonial unveiling of the Rafale aircraft, a traditional ‘Sarva Dharma Puja’, Air Display by Rafale and Tejas aircraft as well as by ‘Sarang Aerobatic Team’, the IAF said. It will be followed by the traditional water cannon salute for the fighter jets. The proceedings will culminate with the ceremonial induction of Rafale to Golden Arrows. Golden Arrows, which was raised at Ambala in October 1951, was resurrected in September 2019 for the new aircraft.