Amid speculation over delay in the delivery of Rafale jets due to coronavirus pandemic, France has said that the timeline finalised for the supply of the fighter planes will be strictly respected. French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said that there will be no delay in delivery of 36 Rafale jets to India.
In September 2016, India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 Rafale jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore to strengthen the Indian Air Force's combat capabilities. As per the deal, the delivery of the jets was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was inked.
"The contractual delivery schedule of the Rafale jets has been perfectly respected till now, and, in fact, a new aircraft was handed over to the Indian Air Force in end-April in France, in keeping with the contract," Lenain told PTI.
"We are helping the Indian Air Force in arranging for the ferry flight of their first four Rafales from France to India as soon as possible. So there's no reason today to speculate that the schedule will not be maintained," the envoy said.
The first four Rafale fighter jets were scheduled to arrive in India by May 2020, but there were apprehensions that the delivery could be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic as aircraft manufacturer Dassault's assembly facility in Merignac were closed due to the spread of virus in the country.
Lenain, however, asserted that the original timeline for delivery of the jets will be adhered to.
France, which is battling with rising infections and deaths due to COVID-19, imposed nationwide lockdown after March 17 to slow the spread of the virus, which was later eased after eight weeks. Over 1,45,000 people were infected by the virus, while the death toll stood at 28,330.
In October 2019, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, during his visit to France for the second India-France ministerial-level annual defence dialogue, had taken formal delivery of the first Rafale jet.
The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA's Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets.
Besides the missile systems, 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.
The IAF has already completed preparations, including getting ready required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft.
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 Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there. The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
The IAF spent around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangars and maintenance facilities at the two bases.
Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater with almost all the features of the fighter jets.
By Chitranjan Kumar with PTI inputs