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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

‘Will make us even stronger’: Rajnath after India gets its first Rafale jet

While the first Rafale has been formally inducted in the Indian Air Force (IAF), the first batch of four jets will fly to their home base in India next April-May. The first 18 jets will arrive by February 2021, with the remainder 18 expected in April-May, 2022.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2019 22:58 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindusatan Times, New Delhi
India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh blesses the first Rafale fighter to the Indian Air Force.
India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh blesses the first Rafale fighter to the Indian Air Force.(Reuters Photo)
         

France on Tuesday handed over to India its first Rafale fighter jet as part of a Rs 59,000-crore deal for 36 warplanes during a ceremony attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart Florence Parly in an important step towards building a stronger air force.

While the first Rafale has been formally inducted in the Indian Air Force (IAF), the first batch of four jets will fly to their home base in India next April-May. The first 18 jets will arrive by February 2021, with the remainder 18 expected in April-May, 2022.

“Our air force is the fourth-largest in the world and I believe that the Rafale aircraft will make us even stronger and will give a boost to India’s air dominance exponentially to ensure peace and security in the region,” Singh said at the handover ceremony at Merignac in France, which coincided with the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) 87th founding day and the Hindu festival of Dussehra.

Singh performed “shastra pooja” at the induction ceremony in keeping with the Hindu tradition of warriors worshipping their weapons and arms on Dussehra. The minister wrote “Om” on the jet’s nose and placed a coconut, a laddoo and flowers on its front section as part of the ritual.

“In India, today is Dussehra, the festival where we celebrate victory over evil. It is also the 87th IAF Day. Therefore, today is symbolic in so many ways,” said Singh, who also flew in the IAF’s first Rafale.

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria made a mention of the Rafale in his address at the IAF Day event at Hindon airbase, saying the force is on the path to rapid modernisation through acquisition of crucial technologies and critical capabilities such as the Rafale jets.

The first Rafale’s RB-001 tail number denotes the initials of the IAF chief: Rakesh Bhadauria. He led the complex negotiations for the Rafale deal.

“Besides adding to the IAF’s strike power, the Rafale will augment much-needed beyond visual range capability. But the most important message it sends across is one of deterrence,” said Air Vice Marshal (retd) Manmohan Bahadur, additional director general of the Centre for Air Power Studies.

The jets have been specially tailored for IAF. India-specific enhancements on the Rafales include a helmet-mounted sight, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, jammers, cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases, and towed decoys to ward off incoming missiles.

“I have been told the French word Rafale means ‘aandhi’ in Hindi or gust of wind. I am sure the aircraft will live up to its name,” Singh said. The Indian fighters will be equipped with Meteor missiles built by European defence major MBDA Missile Systems. The Meteor’s no-escape zone is touted to be three times greater than that of current medium range air-to-air missiles.

The twin-engine jet is capable of carrying out a variety of missions – ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance and nuclear strike deterrence. It can carry more than nine tonnes of weapons on as many as 14 hard-points.

The Rafale programme was launched after the French air force and navy wanted an omni-role fighter to replace seven different types of combat aircraft operated by them.

The 2016 Rafale deal was an emergency purchase to arrest a worrying slide in IAF’s combat capabilities. The air force’s fighter squadrons have reduced to 31, compared to an optimum level of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan.

At the handover ceremony, Parly said the Rafale is a symbol of the best that France has to offer India to protect its sovereignty. “This is just the first step in a long journey as we are committed to meet all needs of the Indian military. It marks a big day in the history of our industrial cooperation and we remain fully committed to the Make-in-India initiative,” she said.

France has had long-standing defence ties with India, and the first French-made jet - the Dassault Ouragan - was inducted in the IAF in 1953. France also supplied the Dassault Mystere IV in 1957 and the Mirage 2000, which played a key role in the Kargil conflict and continues to be in service.

The two Rafale squadrons will be based at Ambala in Haryana and Hasimara in West Bengal, covering the western and eastern fronts. The Rafale is the first imported jet to be inducted into the IAF in 22 years, after the Russian Sukhoi-30 jets entered service in June 1997.

The government and the opposition Congress party traded charges over the Rafale purchase almost every day in the run-up to the 2019 general election. The National Democratic Alliance government’s decision to enter a government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafales was announced in April 2015, with the deal signed a little more than a year later.

This replaced the United Progressive Alliance’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited using parts imported from France.

First Published: Oct 08, 2019 22:45 IST

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