First Indian Rafale fighter jets take off for Pakistan border

© Dassault Aviation – G. Gosset

The first five Dassault Rafale fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) took off from Merignac Air Base, in southwestern France. The aircraft will be ferried to Ambala Air Force Station, near Kashmir and the Pakistan border, within two days.

The ferry operation, which will cover 7,000 kilometers (4,349 miles), will include mid-air refueling provided by the French Air Force as well as a stopover in Al Dhafra Air Base, in the United Arab Emirates, from which France operates.

“This new milestone illustrates once again the exemplary cooperation between Dassault Aviation and the Indian Air Force, started in 1953, and reasserts our total commitment to fulfill Indian Air Force requirements for the decades to come, and to be part of India’s ambitious vision for the future,” said Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation. The French manufacturer has supplied the IAF five times, from the Dassault Ouragan (renamed Toofani) in 1953 to the Mirage 2000 (Vajra) in 1985.

The five aircraft will integrate the N°17 Squadron “Golden Arrows” and will be deployed near the “line of control”. which separates the disputed region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Last year on February 26, 2019, a violent dogfight took place in the area, resulting in one Indian MiG-21 being shot down by the Pakistan Air Force.

The first Dassault Rafale destined to the IAF, RB001, was formally delivered during a ceremony in Dassault Aviation Mérignac facility on October 8, 2019, on India’s Air Force Day.

With 12 Dassault Rafale fighter jets to be delivered per year, the order of 36 aircraft should be complete by December 2021.

A tumultuous tender

The first five aircraft are part of an order for 36 aircraft placed by India in 2016. Their delivery marks the end of a decade of laborious negotiations between France and India. 

The tender to renew the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet was started in 2009. The Rafale was selected in 2012, over its American and European counterparts. An initial order potentially included 126 aircraft. 

However, after years of indecision on an industrial partnership between Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the contract was canceled in 2015.

On September 23, 2016, French President François Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached an agreement for the sale of 36 Rafale aircraft for an amount of €8 billion. This time, Dassault Aviation would manufacture the aircraft.

In 2018, a new tender for the procurement of 114 multi-role combat aircraft for the IAF was put back on the table of negotiations.

In early July 2020, India’s Ministry of Defence agreed on the purchase of 21 Russian MiG-29 and 12 Su-30 MKI as well as the upgrade of 59 existing IAF MiG-29 fighter jets, for a total contract worth $2.4 billion.

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