Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday officially received the first Rafale fighter jet made for India by the French aviation major Dassault.

The Defence Minister held talks with President of the French Republic, Mr Emmanuel Macron, in Paris on 08 October 2019. During the talks, the two leaders comprehensively discussed key aspects of bilateral defence partnership and resolved to continue strengthening the ties between the two countries. “I thanked President Macron for his strong support to further intensifying our strategic partnership, especially in defence sector, with India and for our ‘Make in India’ initiatives,” Rajnath Singh said after the meeting.

The minister, who is on a three-day visit to France, attended the handover ceremony along with his French counterpart Florence Parly at aircraft maker Dassault Aviation facility in Merignac, southwestern France. Members of the top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation were also present at the do.

Defence Minister later participated in the Rafale fighter aircraft handing over ceremony at Merignac in Bordeaux where he performed the ‘Shastra Puja’ on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami before flying a sortie in the Rafale fighter aircraft.

Rajnath Singh performed a ‘Shastra Puja’ on the new aircraft as he emblazoned it with an ‘Om’ tilak and laid flowers and coconut just before he was to take off in it for a sortie in the newly acquired two-seater fighter aircraft. In this trip to France it has marked the second fighter jet sortie in a month for the Defence Minister, as to be noted.

To his Rafale sortie at French Air Force Base Bordeaux, France the Defence Minister was accompanied by VCAS on ground, and both later interacted with the Rafale ground crew and technicians, as well. Later, he was accompanied by Air Marshal HS Arora, Vice Chief of the Air Staff, for the formal acceptance ceremony of the aircraft at Bordeaux, France. And, there he officially received the first of the 36 Rafale aircraft for IAF on the 87th anniversary of the (IAF) force services.

While the formal handover ceremony takes place this week, 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 the air warriors.

“In India, today is Dussehra, the festival where we celebrate victory over evil. It is also the 87th Indian Air Force Day. Therefore, today’s day becomes symbolic in so many ways”, Rajnath Singh added.

The first Rafale jet will come 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 was followed by the annual Indo-French Defence Dialogue between Singh and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly back in Paris on Tuesday evening.

(The writer is a Delhi-based independent contributor to print and online publications)