Defence Minister Rajnath Singh sits in the first IAF Rafale fighter jet on the tarmac before its take-off at the factory of Dassault Aviation in Merignac near Bordeaux, France, on Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Reuters)
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday evening became the first Indian minister to fly on India's first Rafale fighter jet at the Dassault facility near France's Bordeaux, right after he was handed over the first of the 36 long-awaited aircraft for India by France on Indian Air Force's 87th birth anniversary. It was flown by Philippe Duchateau, the head test pilot of Dassualt Aviation.
“It was a very comfortable and smooth flight. It was an unprecedented moment, I had never thought that one day, I will fly at super-sonic speed in a combat aircraft,” Singh said after taking the sortie in the Rafale jet.
Singh said by February 2021, India will get a delivery of 18 Rafale aircraft, and by April-May 2022, India will get all 36 aircraft. “This is a part of our self-defence and not a sign of aggression against anyone. It is a deterrent,” the defence minister said.
Singh attended the handover ceremony of the first Rafale fighter jet acquired by the IAF along with his French counterpart Florence Parly at aircraft maker Dassault Aviation facility in Merignac, southwestern France.
"Rafale will boost India's air dominance exponentially," Singh said after receiving the aircraft.
Singh, who earlier held wide-ranging talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, said his visit was aimed at "expanding the strategic partnership" between India and France.
He also performed a traditional Indian Shastra Puja, or weapons' worship which forms part of Dussehra celebrations, and this year also marks Air Force Day - IAF's 87th anniversary.
Shastra Puja concluded with the traditional breaking of a coconut before the new aircraft.
India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016. The first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020.
All 36 jets are expected to arrive in India by September 2022, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.
The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base. The manufacturers describe it as a fully versatile aircraft which can carry out all combat aviation missions to achieve air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.