Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in France Monday evening on a three-day visit during which he is scheduled to attend the Annual Defence Dialogue and the Induction Ceremony of Rafale on Tuesday. Members of the top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, will also be present at the ceremony.
The Union Minister is also scheduled to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and receive the first of the 36 Rafale aircraft in the French port city of Bordeaux, where he will perform ‘Shastra Puja’ on the occasion of Dussehra and take a sortie in the fighter jet.
After his arrival in Paris, the Defence Minister tweeted: “Bonjour Paris! Delighted to be in France. This great nation is India’s important strategic partner and our special relationship goes far beyond the realm of formal ties. My visit to France is aimed at expanding the existing strategic partnership between both the countries.”
“Naturally, everyone is excited aboutcoming to India and Rafale will be handed over tomorrow (Tuesday), you too should witness the ceremony,” news agency ANI quoted Rajnath as saying on Monday evening.
After meeting Macron at the Elysee Palace in the French capital, Singh will visit Merignac, a suburb of the south-western French town of Bordeaux, where he will participate in the official handover ceremony for the first Rafale combat jet acquired by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The ceremony coincides with IAF’s foundation day.
After performing ‘Shastra Puja’, or weapons’ worship at the air base, Singh will take a sortie in a two-seater trainer version of the aircraft.
“Raksha Mantri will participate in the Rafale fighter aircraft handing over ceremony at Merignac along with French minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly. He will also perform the Shastra Puja on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami and fly a sortie in the Rafale fighter aircraft,” a ministry of defence spokesperson said.
In September 2016, India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore. While the formal handover ceremony takes place this week, the first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020 and the rest are expected to arrive in India by September 2022, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.
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.
The handover ceremony will be followed by the annual Indo-French Defence Dialogue between Singh and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly back in Paris on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, the minister is scheduled to address CEOs representing leading French defence industry enterprises. As part of a wider ‘Make in India’ message, Singh will invite them to participate in the DefExpo to be held in Lucknow from February 5 to 8 next year.
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