French Defence Minister Florence Parly is likely to visit India next month to attend the formal induction ceremony of five Rafale fighter jets into the Indian Air Force (IAF) and hold talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh on further boosting strategic ties, people familiar with the developments said on Friday. The induction ceremony of the Rafale jets will be held on September 10 in Ambala air force station in presence of Singh, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and the entire top military brass of the country, they said.
The Indian and French sides are in touch with each other on the proposed visit by Parly, they added. They said a preliminary discussion on a possible procurement of another batch of 36 Rafale jets by India from France may figure in the talks between the two sides during Parly’s visit here.
There has been a view among some officials in the military establishment that the IAF should at least have four squadrons of Rafale jets considering its operational aspects. A squadron comprises at least 18 aircraft. They think it will be the “cheapest option" as the cost of research and development for all India-specific enhancements have already been covered in the previous deal, those aware of the developments said.
It is learnt that the French side is also keen on discussing the option of a follow-on order. In a telephonic conversation with Singh on June 2, Parly had conveyed her readiness to visit India to further explore ways to enhance bilateral defence ties.
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. The jets are yet to be formally inducted into the IAF. Ten Rafale jets were 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.
The Rafale jets, known for air-superiority and precision strikes, are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia. The Rafale jet is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons.
European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets. Meteor is a next generation beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden. Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.
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. The new fleet will be part of the 17 Squadron of the IAF which was resurrected on Sep 10 last year. The squadron was originally raised at Air Force Station, Ambala on Oct 1 1951. The 17 Squadron has many firsts to its credit; in 1955 it was equipped with the first jet fighter, the legendary De Havilland Vampire.