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First Rafale likely to be handed over on Oct 8; Rajnath Singh scheduled to go to France for ceremony

Expected to arrive in India by May next after months of testing and flight training for pilots

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 11, 2019, 07.27 AM IST
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Rajnath Singh to receive Rafale on October 8
A Rafale during the Aero India Show 2019
NEW DELHI: The first Rafale fighter jet for the Indian Air Force is likely to be handed over at an elaborate ceremony in France on October 8 — a date that coincides with the Air Force Day as well as the festival of Dusshera. The much awaited fighters that will form the cutting edge of the fleet are however expected to arrive in India by May next year after several months of testing and flight training for pilots.

Sources told ET that defence minister Rajnath Singh is scheduled to go to France for the handing over ceremony, which will mark the first new fighter induction into the Air Force since the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas was received in 2016.

The date for the handing over has been delayed by a few weeks with earlier plans for the ceremony to be held on September 19. However, given scheduling issues, the new date in October has been locked onto for now. The ceremony is also likely to be attended by Singh’s French counterpart Florence Parly and senior representatives from both sides.

The fighters — to be armed with the SCALP ground attack missiles that have a range well over 300 km — will be flown by IAF pilots in France for at least 1,500 hours as part of the testing and acceptance process before they come to their home base in Ambala. The first batch of four combat jets is expected to be ferried to India by May.

On Tuesday, the IAF had a ‘resurrection ceremony’ at Ambala for the 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ that will receive the first Rafale. The squadron was earlier equipped with MiG 21s and took part in the Kargil operations and was number plated after the fighters were retired from service.

Indian teams are already in France to oversee the project and IAF pilots have been getting exposure to Rafale characteristics at bilateral air combat drills. A team of IAF pilots is expected to start flying the Rafales from next week to prepare for the handing over exercise.

With its Meteor missile that outranges every Pakistani Air Force jet and the SCALP that can virtually cover every inch of the neighbouring nation, the Rafale has been keenly awaited by the Air Force that has seen a depletion in force levels as legacy Soviet-origin aircraft have retired.

As reported by ET, France has raised the issue of purchase of additional Rafale aircraft with India. The French side has offered an immediate sale of two more squadrons, which means 36 additional Rafale jets. While the deal for 36 Rafale jets signed in 2016 cost €7.87 billion, sources said the offer for an additional 36 aircraft would be significantly lower at under €6 billion because fixed costs covering India-specific enhancements, training equipment and infrastructure have already been made.

Scalp range well over 300 km
The fighters — to be armed with the SCALP ground attack missiles that have a range well over 300 km — will be flown by IAF pilots in France for at least 1,500 hours as part of the testing and acceptance process before they come to their home base in Ambala.

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