New Delhi: Almost a fortnight before the first Rafale fighter aircraft is formally handed over to India on October 8 to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at a function by the French company Dassault Aviation, the Indian Air Force (IAF) “technically accepted” the jet with the tail number “RB-001” to mark the role played by IAF chief-designate Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria in finalising Rs 59,000 crore deal in September 2016.
The multi-role fighter was accepted by a team led by IAF deputy chief Air Marshal VR Chaudhari, who also flew in the plane for about an hour. The first four Rafale jets will actually touch down in Ambala only in May next year after training of the “main” induction team of around 10 pilots, 10 flight engineers and 40 technicians in France. All the 36 jets – eight of them twin-seaters – will be delivered by April 2022.
IAF has resurrected its 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ Squadron at Ambala for the first 18 Rafale jets meant for the western front with Pakistan. The 101 “Falcons” Squadron, in turn, will have the next 18 jets based at Hasimara (West Bengal) near the Sino-Indian border. The 13 India-Specific Enhancements or upgrade on the 36 jets will, however, become fully operational only by September-October 2022 because they will require another six months to undergo “software certification” after all of them have arrived in India. India has already paid over Rs 34,000 crore to France in “milestone-linked installments” under the 2016 contract.