First batch of Rafale jets take off from Paris and arriving in India on July 29

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Paris: The first batch of five Rafale jets on Monday took off from France for India, nearly four years after New Delhi inked an inter-governmental agreement with Paris to procure 36 of the multi-role fighter aircraft under a Rs 59,000-crore deal.

“You can call them (Rafale) both beauty and the beast,” said Indian Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf who interacted with the IAF pilots at the Merignac airbase before they set off for India.

The aircraft flew out from the airbase in the French port city of Bordeaux and will cover a distance of nearly 7,000 km with air-to-air refuelling and a single stop in the United Arab Emirates before arriving at Ambala airbase on Wednesday, officials said.

The aircraft are expected to significantly boost the Indian Air Force’s combat capabilities at a time India is locked in a tense border row with China in eastern Ladakh.

An official statement said the delivery of 10 aircraft has been completed on schedule and five will stay back in France for training missions.

It said the delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed by the end of 2021.

The first Rafale jet was handed over to the IAF in October last year during a visit to France by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

“Our air force pilots tell us that these are extremely swift, nimble, versatile and very deadly aircraft. You can call them both beauty and the beast. They are superb flying machines and being flown by best pilots in the world,” Ashraf said in a video message.

The envoy thanked Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the aircraft, for delivering the fleet on time.

“This (the fleet) is going to add a great deal of air power to our defence preparedness. This is also a powerful symbol of the strategic partnership between India and France,” he added.

The first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed in Ambala air base.

The five Rafales are scheduled to be inducted into the IAF on the afternoon of Wednesday.

However, an IAF spokesperson said a formal induction ceremony will be held in mid-August.

In a statement, the Indian embassy said IAF pilots and supporting personnel have been provided full training on the aircraft and weapon systems by Dassault.

Further batches of IAF personnel will continue the training over the next nine months.

It said Ashraf congratulated the IAF pilots on becoming the first Indian aviators to fly one of the world’s most advanced and potent fighter aircraft and wished them success in meeting the nation’s expectation of playing an important role in India’s defence.

“India and France have a long history of cooperation in fighter aircraft, which includes India’s acquisition of French Toofanis in 1953, then Mystere, Jaguars and the Mirages,” it said.

The embassy said France will send an aircraft with medical equipment and experts on July 26 to support India’s efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic, in a gesture of friendship.

Official sources said the Rafale jets are likely to be deployed in the Ladakh sector as part of IAF’s efforts to enhance its operational capabilities along Line of Actual Control with China in view of the border row with the country.

The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons.

European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets 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.

Besides the missile systems, the Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low-band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems among others The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.

The IAF spent around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangars and maintenance facilities at the two bases Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers.

The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.