Indian Air Modernization Takes a Significant Step Forward: First Rafales Depart France for the Indian Air Force


By Pierre Tran

Five Rafales took off July 27 from Mérignac, southwest France, with Indian air force pilots starting a 7,000 km flight to India, with a further five units  staying in France for pilot training, the Indian embassy said in a statement.

“India took a significant step in strengthening air power and defence preparedness with the first five Rafale fighter aircraft, built by Dassault, flying from Mérignac airbase in Bordeaux, France to India today,” the embassy said.

That was the dispatch of the first batch of the 36 Rafales ordered by India in September 2016 in a deal worth some €7.9 billion ($9.3 billion). Dassault had met contract requirements for handing over to the client nation, and the fighters needed to be flown to the Indian subcontinent to join the air force.

The expected arrival of those Rafales comes just weeks after heightened tension between India and China, with 20 Indian soldiers being killed and an unknown number of Chinese casualties over a contested border in the Himalayas.

The French air force was supporting that Indian Rafale flight, with two A330 multirole tanker transport jets flying with the fighter jets, the French armed forces ministry said in a statement. One Airbus A330 MRTT was providing inflight refuelling, while the second unit carried medical equipment and a 10-strong team of military medical staff to help India in the struggle against the Covid 19 pandemic.

That batch of fighter jets was delivered on time and the remaining 26 units were due to be delivered by the end of 2021, the embassy said. The Rafale flight was due to land in India July 29, and included a stop over in the United Arab Emirates.

Dassault trained Indian pilots and support personnel on the aircraft and weapons, and further batches of air force staff will be trained over the next nine months, the embassy said.

French hopes of selling a further 114 Rafales to India in a €12.2 billion tender may be fading, due to the coronavirus, afternoon daily Le Monde reported May 20.

The health crisis has hurt the Indian economy, slashing the means for New Delhi to spend on foreign suppliers and raising the need for local production, prime minister Narendra Modi is understood to have said in April, the report said.

That may boost the prospects of the Tejas light combat aircraft built by state-owned  Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, based in Bangalore, southern India, the report said. The defense ministry  ratified March 18 an order for 83 of the single-seat Tejas, in a deal worth €5.5 billion. That order promoted a “Make in India” industrial policy and heavily undercut the price of foreign fighter jets proposed by Boeing, Dassault, Lockheed Martin and Saab.

However, the Indian air chief, general Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, said May 18 the light combat aircraft failed to meet the requirement set out for for the 114 fighters,  as the need was “in the middle weight and is in the Rafale class,” Asian News International agency reported. That requirement could be met with increased foreign direct investment and support for the private sector, the air chief said.

The Rafales are due to be based in the northern and western borders of India, ANI reported.

There were 70 ventilators and 100,000 test kits in the A330 MRTT carrying medical assistance, the defense ministry said. The medical aid mission was decided with the foreign ministry and aimed to share lessons learnt by the military in helping civil hospitals in France.

There was also a political signal of bilateral links between New Delhi and Paris.

“This also marks a new milestone in the strong and growing India-France defense cooperation,” the Indian embassy said.

India is seen as a key arms market for France. New Delhi has ordered a powered smart bomb built by Safran Electronics & Defense, the Times of India reported July 23. The weapon bears the brand name Hammer and is an export version of the armement air-sol modulaire, a bomb which Safran previously lobbied France to boost orders to keep the line open.

The Indian air force flies a 51-strong fleet of upgraded Mirage 2000H fighters and the navy is receiving six Scorpene attack submarines. Naval Group signed up to compete in an Indian tender for six more submarines in the P-75 (I) project.

There had been media reports a first batch of four Rafales was due to be flown in May, but that flight was delayed by the health crisis, which led to French facilities being temporarily closed.

The featured photo: The twin-engine fighter jets took off from Dassault Aviation’s facility in Merignac, France. Indian Ambassador to France speaks to pilots at an airbase in Merignac in France. (Image: IAF)

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