On Tuesday, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh attending the formal handover ceremony for the first of India’s French-made 4.5-generation multi-role Rafale fighters in Merignac, France. Singh met with French President Emmanuel Macron and Minister of the Armed Force Florence Parly.
“It is a historic day and shows deepening ties between India and France,” Singh said at the handover ceremony. “Rafale will add to the strength of IAF. Our focus is to enhance the capability of IAF. We are sure that all timelines would be adhered to, be it jets or weapon systems,” he continued.
“This aircraft marks a massive enhancement in the Indian Air Force combat capability but that enhancement is not for attack purposes but as a deterrent for self defense,” Singh further said. Singh credited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that his “decisiveness has made this crucial air enhancement possible today.”
The first squadron of Rafale fighters with the Indian Air Force is slated to be operational by February 2021, according to comments by the Indian defense minister to India Today. All 36 of the jets will arrive by spring 2022.
Singh, at the handover ceremony, flew a sortie in the Rafale—ostensibly to test the aircraft. Singh’s sortie was flown by a French pilot. “It was a very comfortable and smooth flight… I never thought that one day I will fly at super sonic speed in an aircraft,” Singh said afterwards, according to India’s ANI news agency.
Modi, in 2015, concluded a government-to-government deal with Francois Hollande, Macron’s predecessor, for the purchase of 36 Rafales in fly-away condition. India, one of the largest importers of weapons worldwide, was slated to originally purchase 126 Rafale fighters as part of an $12 billion 2007 tender.
The government-to-government deal led eventually to the demise of the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender, once known as the “mother of all defense deals.” The 36 Rafale deal caused a domestic controversy in India, with the opposition accusing Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party, of concealing pricing details.
The deal came out to an estimated 7.8 billion euros. As part of negotiations, India sought the inclusion of so-called offset clauses, which would require Dassault to reinvest proceeds from the sale in India.
Dassault Aviation, the aircraft’s manufacturer, will implement so-called India Specific Enhancements on the Rafale fighters purchased by New Delhi by December 2021.
France remains a major defense supplier for India. Following his meeting with Macron, Singh thanked France for its continued support. “I thanked President Macron for his strong support to further intensifying our strategic partnership, especially in the defense sector, with India and for our ‘Make in India’ initiatives” Singh said.