PM Modi Welcomes First Batch of Rafales, Rajnath Singh Says Jets Will Come as Timely Boost for IAF

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As India received the first batch of five Rafale fighter jets on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there is no virtue like protecting the nation and the BJP leaders hailed the arrival of aircraft, while the Congress raised questions over their price and "delay" in acquisition.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh chose the occasion to send out a stern message to the country's adversaries, saying these fighter aircraft will make the Indian Air Force (IAF) much stronger in deterring any threat and those wanting to threaten its territorial integrity should be worried about its new capability.

Describing the occasion a "proud moment for India", Home Minister Amit Shah said it is a "historic day" for the IAF, noting the Rafale aircraft are the world's most powerful machines capable of thwarting any challenge in the sky.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi congratulated the IAF but then took aim at the government, asking it to answer as to why each aircraft cost Rs 1,670 crore instead of Rs 526 crore, why 36 not 126 of them were bought. He also asked why a "bankrupt" businessman was given an offset contract and not the government-run HAL. The Modi government in the past has refuted Gandhi's charges and asserted that the deal's price was less than what was being negotiated by the Congress-led UPA dispensation.

The Supreme Court had in 2018 rejected PILs seeking a probe into the Rs 59,000 crore deal for the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft and given a clean chit to the government, saying there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement process.

Welcoming the aircraft's arrival, Modi posted a Sanskrit shloka which broadly meant that "there is no virtue like protecting the nation and there is no vow like defence of the nation".

The first batch of five Rafale jets arrived at Ambala air force station on Wednesday afternoon, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.

The aircraft, with an undisputed track record and considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the Ambala Air Force base at around 3:10pm after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux. Each jet was given a special water cannon salute at the strategically-located air base in the presence of top brass of the Indian Air Force including Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria who had played a key role as lead negotiator in procurement of the jets.

The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.

The NDA government had inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal in September 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime. The emergency acquisition was made primarily to check the depleting combat capability of the IAF as the number of its fighter squadrons had come down to a worrying 31 against the authorised strength of at least 42.

The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, are being inducted into the IAF as part of its Ambala-based No 17 Squadron, also known as the 'Golden Arrows'.

A government statement on Monday said 10 Rafale jets were delivered to India and that five of them are staying back in France for training missions. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021, it added.

The Rafale jets, known for air-superiority and precision strikes, are India's first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.

The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA's Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile, Scalp cruise missile and MICA weapons system will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets. The IAF is also procuring new generation medium-range modular air-to-ground weapon system Hammer to integrate with the Rafale jets.

Hammer (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) is a precision-guided missile developed by French defence major Safran. The missile was originally designed and manufactured for the French Air Force and Navy.

Meteor is the next generation of BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden. The Meteor is powered by a unique rocket-ramjet motor that gives it far more engine power for much longer than any other missile, said an official.

Though the jets are being inducted into the IAF on Wednesday, there will be a formal ceremony in mid-August to welcome them into the force. Singh and top military brass of the country are expected to attend the event.

The fleet landed at Al Dhafra airbase on Monday in the UAE after flying for over seven hours from the Merignac airbase. It was the only stopover by the jets while flying from France to India. The jets were also refuelled mid-air from a French tanker at a height of 30,000 feet, according to the Indian Embassy in France.

(With inputs from agencies)