Three more Rafale omnirole fighter jets, bought by India under a controversial ₹59,000 crore deal, are headed to India from the Merignac-Bordeaux airbase in France. By late Wednesday evening they are likely to land in Jamnagar airbase, from where they will fly to the Indian Airforce (IAF)’s Ambala air force station. Subsequently, they will be repurposed to the Hashimara airbase in north Bengal.
“Next batch of three #Rafales leave from France to India today; wished the pilots smooth flight and safe landing,” said the Twitter handle of the Indian Embassy in France.
“The aircraft will be refueled en-route by India’s strategic ally United Arab Emirates using Airbus 330 multi-role transport tankers over middleeast skies,” it added.
The first Rafale squadron is based in Ambala air force station. The Indian Air Force is set to raise the second squadron of the Rafale combat jets in Hasimara air base, according to media reports.
Today’s arrival marks the sixth ferry of Rafale jets from France to India. The three aircraft will take the total number of Rafales in Ambala to 20. Four more are set to join them in a fortnight. According to media reports, the COVID crisis has made the procurement more tedious, with the IAF pilots having to undergo rigorous quarantining in France before they returning home.
Dassault is scheduled to deliver all the 36 Rafales by the second half of 2021. The jets are stated to be capable of carrying a range of weapons.
The Rafale jets, manufactured by French aerospace giant Dassault Aviation, represent India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in over two decades. Earlier, the country had imported Sukhoi jets from Russia.
Since the signing of the €7.87 billion (₹59,000 crore) defence deal for the procurement of 36 Rafale jets in September 2016, it has been steeped in endless controversy.
The Narendra Modi government signed it amid strident opposition, saying the IAF needed greater ‘potency’ over arch rival Pakistan. The Inter Governmental Agreement was signed by then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his visiting French counterpart Jean Yves Le Drian in September 2016.
This came 16 months after Modi had announced India’s plans to buy the aircraft in fly-away condition during his trip to France. The deal was said to have come with a saving of nearly €750 million, thanks to negotiations by the Indian side. The earlier deal, struck by the UPA 2.0 government, was scrapped by the Modi government.
The final deal price, and the related offset clause, created a lot of controversy, with media reports and opposition leaders accusing the government of engaging in corruption and crony capitalism.
Earlier this week, Egypt’s military had confirmed its order of 30 Rafale jets to shore up “national security”. The order, followed the 2015 purchase of 24 Rafale jets, would be financed through a 10-year loan, news agency AFP quoted the Egyptian military as saying in a statement.
The order was reported to be part of a secret mega-defence deal worth almost $4.8 billion.