New Delhi: The production of Rafale fighter jets has been temporarily suspended in France due to the coronavirus outbreak, which could impact the delivery schedule of the aircraft to India, ThePrint has learnt.
The training schedule of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots has also been affected amid precautionary steps being taken in France to tackle the pandemic.
Defence sources told ThePrint that Dassault Aviation’s Bordeaux-Mérignac production facility, which manufactures the Rafale, halted work this week. The facility will remain suspended until 31 March.
“Work has been stopped as a precautionary measure. The training and other related matters have also been put on hold. The steps are being taken as part of the overall protocols being put in place in wake of the coronavirus outbreak,” a source said.
With the pandemic reaching over 150 countries — France and India are facing nearly 10,000 and 200 cases, respectively — governments across the world have pitched for work-from-home in a bid to contain the viral spread.
If the production facility remains shut beyond 31 March, the delivery schedule could get affected. Further, once the production facility resumes work, the machines will have to undergo mandatory servicing since it would have remained idle, the sources said.
The delivery of 11 Rafale jets for this year could get affected, said the sources. Four Rafale jets are currently under production at the facility while four others are under trials.
According to the contract, 11 of the total 36 Rafale jets under the deal are to be delivered on an annual basis. The first four jets were formally handed over to India in October 2019. These aircraft will arrive in India in May.
Every effort is being made to ensure that the production targets are met, but coronavirus is something that has hit every industry, the defence sources said.
Dassault Aviation had increased its production rate in 2015 following India’s €7.878 billion order for 36 Rafale fighters.
IAF’s Rafale integration
With the first four Rafale fighters set to land in India in a couple of months, multiple IAF personnel are currently in France as part of the training and to monitor the project.
Sources said the IAF has already issued instructions to all its personnel, including those abroad, just like the Army and the Navy, to ensure precautions are taken at their end to prevent any spread of the coronavirus.
The first set of the Rafale aircraft will be commissioned into the 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ in Ambala and a second squadron will come up in Hasimara to secure the Eastern borders during peace times and war.
With this integration, the IAF 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 jets are referred to as an “omnirole” combat aircraft.