New Delhi: The first Rafale fighter jet is likely to be handed over to India at a ceremony in France on 8 October, ThePrint has learnt.
The ceremony was to be held on 19 September but is learnt to have been postponed due to scheduling issues on the Indian side.
Incidentally, 8 October is celebrated as Air Force Day in India, and the day is coinciding with Dussehra this year.
Defence sources told ThePrint that while nothing has been communicated to France in writing about the change in plans, they have been told verbally that the event might get delayed.
“The dates for the defence minister are being worked out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also travelling out around the same time, and hence, there is a scheduling issue. In all likelihood, the ceremony might happen in the first week of October,” a source said.
Sources said the Rafale handover ceremony would be held on 8 October. However, if the delivery takes place on that day, it won’t be possible for both the defence minister and the new IAF chief to be present at the ceremony, since Air Force Day celebrations will also be held in India on that day. Current Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa retires on 30 September.
According to the original plan, the first of the 36 Rafale fighters ordered in 2016 was scheduled to be handed over on 19 September in France. The first batch of four Rafale aircraft is expected to land in India in May 2020. Sources said the production and delivery schedule is on track.
The Dassault Aviation-manufactured Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers and 10-hour flight data recording, among others.
Golden Arrows squadron comes back to life
The IAF’s Ambala-based 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’, will be the unit that inducts the Rafales.
The squadron was disbanded in 2016 after the IAF started phasing out MiG-21s. But Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa is set to resurrect the squadron at the Ambala Air Force Station Tuesday. Dhanoa had commanded the 17 Squadron during the Kargil war in 1999.
The squadron was formed in 1951, and initially flew the de Havilland Vampire F Mk 52 fighters.
The second squadron of Rafales will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.