Rajnath Singh to hold talks with French President before sortie in Rafale jet

Paris, Oct 8 (PTI) Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday and receive the first of the 36 Rafale aircraft in the French port city of Bordeaux, where he will perform ‘Shastra Puja’ on the occasion of Dussehra and take a sortie in the fighter jet.

“Delighted to be in France. This great nation is India’s important strategic partner and our special relationship goes far beyond the realm of formal ties. My visit to France is aimed at expanding the existing strategic partnership between both the countries,” Singh tweeted after his arrival in Paris on Monday.

After his talks with Macron at the Elysee Palace in the French capital, Singh will be flown to Merignac, a suburb of the south-western French town of Bordeaux, where he will participate in the official handover ceremony for the first Rafale combat jet acquired by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The ceremony coincides with the foundation day of the Indian Air Force as well as the day when Dussehra is being celebrated.

Arrangements have been made at the air base for a traditional ‘Shastra Puja’, or weapons’ worship which forms part of Dussehra celebrations. After performing puja, Singh will take a sortie in a two-seater trainer version of the aircraft.

“Raksha Mantri will participate in the Rafale fighter aircraft handing over ceremony at Merignac along with French minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly,” a ministry of defence spokesperson said.

“He will also perform the Shastra Puja on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami and fly a sortie in the Rafale fighter aircraft, the spokesperson said.

Members of the top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, will also be present at the ceremony.

India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016. While the formal handover ceremony takes place this week, 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.

The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004. The Rafale jets intended for India are expected to come with certain bespoke modifications for the IAF and have been awaited as a crucial enhancement to India’s Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft fleet.

The first Rafale jet will come with tail number RB 001, with RB denoting the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria who played a key role in striking the deal for the jets in his previous role as IAF deputy chief.

The handover ceremony will be followed by the annual Indo-French Defence Dialogue between Singh and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly back in Paris on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, the minister is scheduled to address CEOs representing leading French defence industry enterprises. As part of a wider ‘Make in India’ message, Singh will invite them to participate in the DefExpo to be held in Lucknow from February 5 to 8 next year.

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