New Delhi: The first batch of five Rafale fighter jets were formally inducted into the Indian Air Force on Thursday in Ambala air base, at a time when India is engaged in an escalating border row with China in eastern Ladakh.
A galaxy of dignitaries including defence minister Rajnath Singh, his French counterpart Florence Parly, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria and defence secretary Ajay Kumar, along with top executives of major French defence firms involved in the Rafale deal, attended the ceremony.
IAF has formally inducted the #Rafale aircraft in 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ today, at Air Force Station, Ambala. The ceremony also marks #Rafale’s full operational entry into IAF.
Glimpses of the Rafale in action with IAF. pic.twitter.com/WfohU5vMET
— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) September 10, 2020
Singh took up the occasion to allude to tensions with China and said the induction of the Rafale jets into the IAF is crucial considering the kind of atmosphere which is being created along India’s border.
“It is a strong message for the entire world, especially those eyeing India’s sovereignty. This kind of induction is very important for the kind of atmosphere that has been created on our borders,” he said in his address.
मैं ऐतिहासिक 17 squadron को विशेष बधाई देना चाहूँगा। भारतीय पराक्रम के इतिहास में आपका नाम चमकीले अक्षरों में दर्ज़ है। Rafale का induction, ‘Golden arrows’ को नई चमक देगा। आप सभी ‘Rafale’, यानि ‘तूफ़ान’ की तरह गतिशील रहकर देश की ‘अखंडता’ और ‘संप्रभुता’ की रक्षा करते रहें: RM
— रक्षा मंत्री कार्यालय/ RMO India (@DefenceMinIndia) September 10, 2020
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria also said that the induction of Rafale jets could not have happened at a more opportune time considering the security scenario.
The programme included a ‘sarva dharma puja’, a ceremonial ‘water cannon salute’ to the Rafale jets and an aerial drill featuring various manoeuvres by the aircraft. The jets will now be a part of the IAF’s ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron.
The first batch of five Rafale jets arrived in India on July 29, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.
In her brief address, Parly said France is fully committed to integrate the Indian defence industry with France’s global military supply chain, while calling the induction of the Rafale jets into the IAF a new chapter in bilateral defence ties.
Parly and Singh are scheduled to hold talks after the ceremony in Ambala on ways to further deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation after the ceremony, they said.
The French delegation at the ceremony included French envoy Emmanuel Lenain, Air General Eric Autellet, Vice Chief of French Air Force, chairman and chief executive of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier and CEO of missile maker MBDA Eric Beranger.
Ten Rafale jets have been delivered to India so far and five of them stayed back in France for imparting training to IAF pilots. The delivery of all 36 aircraft is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.
A second batch of four to five Rafale jets are likely to arrive in India by November. While the first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed at Ambala air base, the second one will be based at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
Sources told PTI a preliminary discussion on a possible procurement of another batch of 36 Rafale jets by India from France may figure in the talks between Singh and Parly.
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.
As The Wire has reported before, the Rafale contract itself has, over the last two years, been mired in political controversy, with opposition parties and civil society stakeholders raising questions over the process by which the deal was struck, the aircraft’s pricing and the choice of one major Indian offset partner (Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence).
The allegations of crony capitalism spilled over to the legal domain, a development that was eventually put to an end by the Supreme Court refusing to order a probe into the deal and then later rejecting a review petition that pointed out flaws in the apex court’s reasoning.
You can catch up on the questions raised about the deal – which still remain unanswered – here.
(With PTI inputs)
Note: This article has been updated with details of Rajnath Singh’s speech and the ceremony.