Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), left here for France today on a five-day official visit during which he will hold talks with senior French military officials on the production and delivery schedule of the remaining Rafale jets, among other issues.

“The visit of CAS from 19- 23 April will enhance potential avenues for strengthening the level of interaction between the two Air Forces,” the Defence Ministry said.

The visit comes after Gen Philippe Lavigne, Chief of Staff, French Air and Space Force (FASF) visited India in February 2020. The two Air Forces have seen significant operational interaction in the recent past. They engage in the bilateral air exercise series ‘Garuda’, as well as hop exercises, the last being “Ex Desert Knight 21” held at the Air Force Station, Jodhpur in January.

There is a possibility of Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria flagging off a batch of five or six Rafale jets from the Merignac airbase in the French port city of Bordeaux for India, sources said. Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale jets, was scheduled to send six Rafale aircraft to India by the end of April.

The arrival of the new batch of the aircraft will pave the way for the IAF to raise a second squadron of the Rafale jets. The new squadron will be based in Hasimara air base in West Bengal. The first Rafale squadron is based in Ambala air force station. A squadron comprises around 18 aircraft.

India had signed an intergovernmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore. Dassault Aviation has delivered 14 jets to the Indian Air Force so far. The first batch of five Rafale jets arrived in India on July 29 last year.