Rajnath Singh flies sortie after receiving first Rafale jet in France, says India to receive 18 aircrafts by February 2021

  • Defence minister Rajnath Singh reached the production unit of Dassault Aviation at Merignac in the southwestern French town of Bordeaux on Tuesday for the handover ceremony of the first Rafale combat jet

  • Earlier, he met French President Emmanuel Macron at Elysee Palace in Paris, where the two leaders discussed the strengthening of defence and strategic ties between the nations.

  • India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016

Defence minister Rajnath Singh received the first Rafale combat jet acquired by the Indian Air Force (IAF) the production unit of Dassault Aviation at Merignac in the southwestern French town of Bordeaux on Tuesday and boarded the aircraft to fly a sortie.

After the sortie that lasted almost 30 minutes, Rajnath Singh said that it was an unprecedented moment. He said that 18 Rafale aircraft will be delivered by February 2021, while all the aircraft will be delivered by April-May 2022. “This is a part of our self-defence and not a sign of aggression against anyone. It is a deterrent,” he said.

Informing reporters that Rafale has the ability to fire air-to-air and air-to-land simultaneously, Rajnath added that these additions are to boost India’s defence capabilities.

Meanwhile, Duchateau said that Rajnath Singh was flown at supersonic speed and was shown various aircraft manoeuvres.

After inspecting a Rafale jet on the assembly line at the production unit earlier in the day, he addressed members of the top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation present at the ceremony.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called it a “historic day for Indian forces”, one which signifies the strengthening of ties between India and France.

“Today, India is celebrating Dussehra. We mark this day to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. It is also the 87th Air Force Day. The Rafale deal was inked between India and France in 2016. Our monitoring team has been positioned in France to ensure smooth implementation of this project,” he said.

Rajnath Singh expressed confidence that the jet will add strength to the forces. “Our focus is to equip our air force and enhance its capabilities. We are sure that the delivery timeline for all 36 aircraft will be met,” he said.

He said the day marks a new milestone in India-France strategic ties. “Rafale is a French word, which in means ‘gust of wind’. I am sure that the jet will live up to its name,” Rajnath Singh said.

After the speech, Singh also conducted a traditional Shastra Puja, or weapons' worship by placing a coconut and flowers on the aircraft.

Rajnath Singh was flown by Philippe Duchateau, head test pilot of Dassault Aviation. Earlier, he met French President Emmanuel Macron at Elysee Palace in Paris, where the two leaders discussed the strengthening of defence and strategic ties between the nations.

"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," said defence secretary Ajay Kumar, who is part of the ministerial delegation to France. Before the discussions with Macron, Singh also met France's Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly. Admiral Bernard Rogel, the defence advisor to the French president, was also present at the meeting. Singh' visit to Dassault coincides with Dussehra celebrations in the country and with the Indian Air Force's (IAF) 87th anniversary. Greeting IAF personnel on Twitter, Singh said, "The IAF is the shining example of exemplary courage, fortitude, determination and impeccable service to our nation."

Singh is accompanied by Vinay Mohan Kawatra, India's ambassador to France, as well as Armed Forces personnel including Air Marshall Harjit Singh Arora, Vice Chief of Air Staff; Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Vice Chief of Naval Staff; and Lieutenant General Rajeev Sabherwal, Vice Chief of Army Staff.

India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016. While India will symbolically receive the aircraft at the plant on Tuesday, the first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020.

All 36 jets 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 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

"In the defence sector, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is our longest standing export customer and has been flying Dassault aircraft since 1953. The acquisition contract for 36 Rafale – signed in 2016 – and the modernisation of the Mirage 2000 I/TI are a continuation of this historic partnership," Dassault Aviation said in a statement.

The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and with the French Air Force in 2006 and is said to have proven its worth in combat in war zones such as Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria.

 Rajnath Singh flies sortie after receiving first Rafale jet in France, says India to receive 18 aircrafts by February 2021

The Rafale jets intended for India are expected to come with certain bespoke modifications for the IAF and have been awaited as a crucial enhancement to India's Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft fleet.

The first Rafale jet comes 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 5 to 8 February next year.

The minister landed in Paris on Monday night for a three-day official visit, which he said is aimed at expanding the existing strategic partnership between both the countries. In his statement on arrival, Singh noted that India's "special relationship" with France goes far beyond the realm of formal ties.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2019 15:41:12 IST