As it prepares to induct a second batch of Rafale jets, the Indian Air Force has sent a team of officials to France to oversee the logistical issues and review the training of a hand-picked group of pilots at the Saint-Dizier air base there, officials said on Thursday. The second batch of four Rafale jets is expected to arrive in India in the next four weeks.
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 these aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore. Several teams from the IAF have visited France since January to oversee the progress of the Rafale project including integration of India-specific enhancements and weapons systems, the officials said.
The IAF's Rafale project management team has an office in Paris headed by a Group Captain-rank officer. The team is tasked with overseeing the production timelines as well as coordinating training of the crew. A team of experts headed by assistant chief of air staff (projects) reached France earlier this week to coordinate logistical issues as well as training of pilots and technicians, said the officials.
The first batch of Rafale jets was finally inducted into the IAF on September 10. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on October 5 said the induction of all 36 Rafale jets will be completed by 2023.
Ten Rafale jets have been delivered to India so far and five of them stayed back in France for imparting training to IAF pilots. Known for their air-superiority and precision strikes, the Rafale jets are India's first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia. The newly inducted fleet has been carrying out sorties in eastern Ladakh where Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in a bitter border row for over five months. A group of IAF pilots is currently undergoing training on Rafale jets at the Saint-Dizier airbase in eastern France.