New Delhi: On June 2, Defence Watch had reported after a telephonic conversation between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with his French counterpart Florence Parly, Rafale delivery is unaffected because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 29, sources of the Ministry of Defence confirmed that India will get the first batch of Rafale fighter jets by July 27. The French have confirmed delivery of four Rafale jets though the efforts are being made to deliver six of them. This earlier-than-expected delivery of Rafale fighter jets will significantly increase the combat compatibility of the Indian Air Force. All of the jets which are to be delivered via the French airbase in Dubai will be combat-ready, a source said.
French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation has so far officially handed over four Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Air Force and all of them are in France. The first major group of fighter pilots and technicians that was in France for the training of flying and maintaining Rafale aircraft has come back and has started operations here. Altogether, the IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft. The first three Rafale fighter jets were handed over in a ceremony in November 2019. Dassault had promised to deliver 14 more fighter jets by February 2021 which now is likely to be delayed because the French aircraft maker's assembly facility in Bordeaux-Mérignac was closed till the end of April amid COVID-19 spread.
The IAF has spent around Rs 400 crore to develop infrastructure like shelters, hangars and maintenance facilities at the two bases. Out of the 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.
Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force has been on a high alert for more than two weeks in view of escalation in tension with China following clashes between troops of the two countries in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The two armies are locked in a bitter standoff in the region for seven weeks. The arrival of the Rafale jets will formidably enhance the IAF's overall capability on the one hand and will send a clear message to India's "adversaries" on the other.
India placed an order for 36 Rafale fighters in September 2016 for $8.7 billion (Rs 58,000 crore). Prime Minister Narendra Modi had signed a G-to-G deal with then-French President Francois Hollande for the procurement of the aircraft in fly-away condition. Rafale's first squadron will be stationed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF.
Rafale is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA's Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package. Meteor is the next generation of BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. Besides the missile systems, 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.
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