New Delhi: The delivery of the Rafale fighter jets will be pushed back due to the coronavirus crisis. The first four aircraft are likely to land in India by July 2020 and not May as earlier scheduled.
Defence sources told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that Dassault Aviation’s Bordeaux-Mérignac production facility, which manufactures the Rafale, has been hit by the lockdown in France, which will continue until 11 May.
Sources said the training of Indian personnel on the Rafale has resumed in a limited manner, after being stopped completely for a week-and-a-half late in March. The training flights are operating under strict Covid-19 protocols.
ThePrint had reported on 20 March that the Covid-19 pandemic could impact the delivery of Rafales.
Schedule goes for a toss
The first four Rafales had been formally handed over to India in October 2019, and were set to arrive in May. But now the entire schedule has been sent for a toss.
“The lockdown in France is till 11 May. Even then, one is not sure if everyone will be allowed to join back or will be there any new limits,” an official involved in the Rafale project said.
A second source added: “Even if everything is opened up, there are certain protocols in place that need to be followed. Permissions will also have to be sought from all the countries over which the Rafale will fly. This will take time.”
Four Rafale jets are currently under production at Dassault’s facility, while four others are undergoing trials.
Rafale in India
According to the contract, of the 36 Rafales India has ordered, 11 are to be delivered every year.
The first set of the Rafale aircraft will be commissioned into the 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ in Ambala, while a second squadron is set to come up in Hasimara, West Bengal, to secure India’s eastern borders.
By integrating the Rafale, the Indian Air Force will have the most potent 4.5-generation fighter aircraft.
Equipped with a wide range of weapons, the Rafale is designed to carry out air dominance, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. The jet is referred to as an “omnirole” combat aircraft.