New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will fly a sortie in a Rafale fighter jet on October 8 from a French airbase in Paris to gain first-hand experience of the aircraft, official sources said on Thursday.
Singh is scheduled to travel to Paris on October 7 on a three-day visit, primarily to receive the first of 36 Rafale fighter jets. The ceremony to hand over the first Rafale jet will take place on October 8, the foundation day of the Indian Air Force, the sources said.
After receiving the aircraft, the defence minister will take a sortie in the aircraft, they said.
Top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, will also be present at the handing over ceremony.
In July 2017, the then IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, flew a Rafale jet at the Saint-Dizier airbase during his visit to France. On October 9, Singh is scheduled to hold extensive talks with top defence brass of the French government on ways to further deepen defence and security cooperation between the two countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited France in August during which both the sides resolved to further enhance the already close defence ties between the two countries.
Sources said a high-level team of the Indian Air Force is already in Paris to coordinate with French officials on the handing over ceremony. India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.
The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons and missiles. The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft.
The sources said the first squadron of the aircraft will be deployed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there.
The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal. A number of IAF teams have already visited France to help Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, incorporate India-specific enhancements on-board the fighter aircraft.
The Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra red search and tracking systems among others.
The Congress raised several questions about the deal, including on rates of the aircraft, and alleged corruption but the government has rejected the charges. The IAF spent around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases.
According to the deal, the delivery of the jets was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was signed.