NEW DELHI: India will get its Rafale fighter jets on time despite delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, French Defence Minister Florence Parly told her Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh on Tuesday in a telephone conversation.
"France reaffirmed its commitment to ensure timely delivery of Rafale aircraft despite the challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic," as per a statement from the Indian defence ministry.
The two ministers agreed to work together to fulfil the India-France joint strategic vision on the Indian Ocean Region, the statement added.
"Had a telephonic conversation with French Minister of Armed Forces, Florence Parly today. We discussed matters of mutual concern including covid-19 situation, regional security and agreed to strengthen the bilateral defence cooperation between India and France," Singh said in a Twitter post.
Dassault Aviation had handed over the first of 36 Rafale aircraft, which India had ordered in 2016, during a visit by Singh to France last year. India was to get its first lot of four or five jets in May followed by one every month, but the covid-19 pandemic, which brought economic activities to a standstill and factories downing their shutters, delayed the delivery schedule.
India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around ₹58,000 crore.
The Rafale jet has been described as a “game changer" for the Indian Air Force (IAF) as it significantly increases its capabilities. The jet comes equipped with a range of potent weapons including the European missile maker, MBDA's Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile. The Meteor is a next generation missile that promises to revolutionise air-to-air combat and has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
Besides the missile systems, the Rafale jets will incorporate 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.
The IAF has already completed its preparations to receive the aircraft in India, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots. The first squadron of the aircraft will be stationed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.