Rajnath Singh receives first Rafale in France, performs 'Shastra Puja', flies sortie

Bordeaux [France], Oct 8 (ANI): Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday received the first of the 36 French-built Rafale fighter jet bearing the tail number RB-001 in the French port city of Bordeaux and performed 'Shastra Puja' on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami.

French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly, members of the top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale were also present at the handover ceremony.

The RB in the tail number denoted the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria who played a key role in the signing of the biggest ever defence deal of India worth above Rs 60,000 crore for 36 fighter planes.

The ceremony coincided with the foundation ceremony of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Singh performed Shastra Puja (worship of weapons) after receiving the first of the 36 Rafale jets in the French port city of Bordeaux on Tuesday. He wrote "Om" on the jet and presented flowers and a coconut on it.

He flew a sortie on the newly inducted French-built Rafale, which was formally handed over to India here on Tuesday. The jet was flown by Philippe Duchateau, head test pilot of Dassault Aviation.

This was Singh's second sortie in a fighter jet in a span of a month. He earlier flew in the LCA Tejas which was recently inducted in the IAF.

After the sortie, the minister said that the jet has increased combat capability of the IAF and the country is doing this for "self-defence".

"The handing over ceremony of Rafale was completed after pooja. The French defence minister has handed over Rafale to me. We will get 18 Rafale jets by February 2021 and rest 18 will get all 36 jets by April-May 2022. With the induction of Rafale, the combat capability of the Air Force has increased. Since we are increasing our capability, it does not mean that we are doing this to attack anyone but for self-defence. It will be like a deterrent," he told reporters here.

Taking to Twitter, he posted: "We do not purchase arms and other defence equipments to threaten any country but to increase our capabilities & strengthen our defences."

However, he said that India will have to retaliate if someone tries to "destabilise" the country.

Singh described the ride as very comfortable and smooth flight and said it was an unprecedented moment. "I had never thought that one day I will fly at supersonic speed in an aircraft," he said.

"Taking a sortie in Rafale was a memorable and once in a lifetime experience. The induction of Rafale will go a long way in strengthening our national defence," he tweeted.

The Defence Minister gave credit for the acquisition of the Rafale jets to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "His decisiveness has greatly benefited our national security," he said.

In his address at the Rafale handing over Ceremony in Merignac, Singh emphasised on the focus to equip the IAF and enhance its capabilities, saying that the new Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) will make India stronger and will give a boost to its air dominance exponentially to ensure peace and security in the region.

"I was glad in knowing that a large number of India Air Force officers and airmen are being trained in France for flying, maintenance support and logistics for handling Rafale fighter aircraft and hoped the training in French facilities will help the crew in acquiring knowledge and professional expertise required for performing their task in India," he added.

The minister pointed out that the Rafale Project Monitoring Team (PMT) from India has been positioned in France since August 2017 to ensure smooth implementation of the project.

"I hope the strong cooperation between two important and large democracies will continue to grow and contribute to global peace, prosperity and environmental sustainability". He also stressed the importance of the ceremony saying it signifies the depth of the strategic partnership between India and France," he said.

The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for 36 Rafale aircraft procurement was signed between the Government of India and Government of France on September 23, 2016.

Before coming to Bordeaux, Singh met France President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and later termed the meeting as 'fruitful'.

"The meeting with France President was fruitful. He also discussed his meeting with PM Modi. I have also conveyed him the regard of PM Modi. He thanked me for that. Macron said that France has very old strategic relations with India and the relationship will be strengthened further," he told ANI.

"Had an excellent meeting with the President of France Mr Emmanuel Macron at Elysee Palace in Paris today. We had a comprehensive discussion covering a wide range of issues," he tweeted. (ANI)