The acquisition of the Rafale aircraft will greatly enhance India’s operational capability, Indian Air Force‘s newly appointed chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said on Oct. 4, just four days ahead of the 87th Air Force Day celebrations on Oct. 8.
As IAF celebrates, the same day, in Bordeaux in France, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will symbolically take delivery of the first of the 36 aircraft India bought from France in a Rs 58,000-crore ($9 billion) deal in 2016.
India seeks to boost its capability through Rafale to primarily counter Pakistan’s F-16s and China’s J-20 fighters. The need for such a boost in capability was felt after an risk analysis that IAF did within.
Rajnath Singh will be in France on Oct. 7, 8 and 9 in a bilateral visit that is expected to expand the two nation’s defence ties. The first Rafale handover by France during the visit is indicative of the enhancement in the special relationship that the two nations already have.
However, after taking delivery, India will not immediately fly the single Rafale to India. It will wait for Dassault Aviation to hand over three more Rafales before these are flown into India sometime in the second half of May 2020, Bhadauria said.
Meanwhile, IAF pilots will get training to operate the India-specific Rafale while in France. By the time the aircraft arrive in India, the pilots would be fully operational to fly the aircraft over the Indian skies.
One important takeaway from what the IAF chief wanted to convey at his press conference was that there was no proposal under consideration for buying additional 36 aircraft as being reported frequently in the Indian media. At least, no such proposal is being considered at the IAF headquarters as yet.
India has also sent teams to France to help Dassault Aviation to manufacture the Rafales with India-specific enhancements that have been agreed upon. The India-specific enhancements will include Israeli helmet-mounted display, radar warning receivers, low-band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking system, among others.
India has already spent Rs 400 crore on infrastructure such as hangars and maintenance facilities at the air bases in Ambala, Haryana and Hashimara, West Bengal for stationing the two Rafale squadrons respectively. In anticipation of the arrival of the Rafales, India has resurrected the 17 Squadron at Ambala to be commanded by Group Captain Harkirat Singh.
The 17 Squadron will now be equipped with the Rafale aircraft when it arrives in India next year.