India has received delivery of the first Rafale combat jet from France, in an effort to boost its capabilities to counter Pakistan and China.
Defense minister Rajnath Singh flew to Merignac, Bordeaux to join a symbolic delivery of the first aircraft manufactured by Dassault Aviation under a 2016 contract for 36 Rafales.
India is expected to induct the Rafales into its fleet to raise a squadron only in May 2020, Indian Air Force chief R. K. S. Bhadauria said at a news conference in New Delhi on Oct. 4.
“The Rafale aircraft will greatly enhance our operational capability,” he said. “But, we do not have any plans yet to buy another 36 Rafales.”
India had carried out an air strike on Pakistan on Feb. 26 in retaliation to a terror strike on paramilitary troopers in Kashmir earlier that month.
Pakistan retaliated with its own air strike a day later. In the air battle, India lost a MiG-21 and its pilot captured while Pakistan’s F-16 too was shot down.
China’s fast-paced acquisition of military hardware, including modern combat jets, has raised an alarm in the region, including in India. China’s latest acquisition for its air force has been the locally-made J-20 fighters.
Indian prime minsiter Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap a tender for 126 Rafales and to announce a 36-jet deal for over $8 billion had caused a political controversy with the opposition claiming arbitrariness in the contract.
The shortfall in the number of combat jets of the Indian air force will now be met through a separate tendering process, initiated in 2018. Global aircraft makers, including Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Saab AB and Dassault Aviation are competing to bag what could now be the world’s largest fighter aircraft deal at an estimated $15 billion.
“Indian air force will not go to the government seeking approval for issuing the tender for the 114 aircraft,” Bhadauria said.
After receiving the aircraft, Rajnath Singh said the focus was to equip the Indian Air Force and enhance its capabilities. He said the new Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) will make India stronger and will give a boost to its air dominance exponentially to ensure peace and security in the region.
Calling the day as “historic” and “landmark” for the Indian armed forces, Rajnath Singh said: “In India, today is Dussehra, the festival where we celebrate victory over evil. It is also the 87th Indian Air Force Day. Therefore, today becomes symbolic in so many ways.”
The Indian defence minister also assured that the strong cooperation between India and France will continue to grow and contribute to global peace, prosperity and environmental sustainability, noting that the handover of the first Rafale jet signifies the depth of strategic partnership between India and France.
Rajnath Singh also said he was glad in knowing that a large number of Indian Air Force officers and airmen are being trained in France for flying, maintenance support and logistics for handling Rafale fighter aircraft and hoped the training in French facilities will help the crew in acquiring knowledge and professional expertise required for performing their task in India.
He pointed out that the Rafale Project Monitoring Team (PMT) from India has been positioned in France since August 2017 to ensure smooth implementation of the project. He expressed happiness that the delivery of Rafale aircraft is on schedule and will add to the strength of the Indian Air Force.
The minister also performed a “shastra puja” (worship of the arms) on the auspicious occasion of ‘Vijayadashami’ before embarking on a sortie on the Rafale aircraft.
French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and Dassault Aviation Chief Executive Officer Eric Trappier were present on the occasion.
The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for 36 Rafale aircraft procurement was signed between the Government of India and Government of France on September 23, 2016.
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