India will receive its first of Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force next month when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa will travel to Paris next month to receive the first of 36, government sources said Wednesday.
Top military brass of France as well as senior officials of the makers of Rafale, Dassault Aviation, will also be present at the handing over ceremony which is likely to be held on September 20. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will leave for France on Thursday on a bilateral visit during which further boosting of defence cooperation between the two countries is expected.
Sources said a high-level team of the Indian Air Force is already in Paris to coordinate with the French officials on the handing over ceremony. India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore. The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons and missiles.
The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft. The first squadron of the aircraft is likely to be deployed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
A number of IAF teams have already visited France to help Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, incorporate India-specific enhancements on-board the fighter aircraft. The Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems among others.
The Congress had raised several questions about the deal, especially on the rates of the aircraft, and alleged that the cost of each aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA government had negotiated with France in 2012. The party also questioned the discrepancies when the deal was taken away from Dassault Aviation’s Indian partner Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and given to the Anil Ambani’s nascent company, Reliance Defence Limited.
The IAF spent around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases.
In July 2017, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, during his visit to France, flew a Rafale jet at the Saint-Dizier airbase to gain first-hand experience of the aircraft. According to the deal, the delivery of the jets was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was inked.