The delivery of the first batch of four Rafale multirole fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF) is likely to be delayed by three months, according to local media reports.
The delivery flight of the first Rafale fighters from France to India reportedly had to be postponed due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Lockdown and social distancing measures imposed by the French authorities to contain the spread of the coronavirus have also negatively impacted the training schedule of Indian pilots in France. IAF pilots are flying the fighter jets for at least 1,500 hours in France as part of their training on the aircraft.
“In mid-March there were 8-9 weeks of training left before the first major group could move to India for starting operations here,” a defense source was quoted as saying by the Hindu newspaper on April 12. “Some logistic support equipment and test equipment were also to be flown to Ambala beginning April, which is postponed as of now due to the lockdown and restrictions on flights imposed by India.”
French aircraft maker Dassault’s assembly facility in Bordeaux-Mérignac will now remain closed until the end of April. “Taking in the delay due to the lockdown in France, followed by any restrictions on flights and personnel coming from Europe imposed by India, we could be looking at July [for the arrival of the aircraft],” the defense source said.
Dassault Aviation has officially handed over four Rafale fighter aircraft to the IAF to date, all of which remain in France. The first three aircraft were handed over in a ceremony in November 2019. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, 14 more fighter jets were scheduled to be delivered by February 2021. Delivery of the 14 additional aircraft will likely now also be delayed.
India placed an order for 36 Rafale fighters in September 2016 for $8.7 billion. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a government-to-government deal with then-French President Francois Hollande for the procurement of the aircraft in fly-away condition. As I explained previously:
Originally, India was expected to purchase 126 Rafale fighter jets as part of a $12 billion contract under the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender. The deal principally fell apart over disagreements between New Delhi and Paris over the local manufacturing of 108 of the 126 aircraft spearheaded by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Eighteen Rafale fighters will form the IAF’s 17 Squadron at Ambala Air Force Station, while the remaining 18 aircraft will serve in the IAF’s 101 Squadron at Hasimara Air Force Station in northeastern India.