Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will fly on a Rafale fighter jet on October 8 in France where he is scheduled to take delivery of first of the 36 warplanes India is buying in fly-away-condition from Dassault Aviation.
By flying on supersonic Rafale, Singh will be reinforcing his reputation as a hands-on defence minister after his recent sortie aboard an indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas.
Singh will be flying a two-seater trainer version of the twin-engine multirole fighter, which can achieve top speeds of 2,250 km per hour or 1.8 times the speed of sound. A pre-delivery inspection team of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is already in France initiating the proceedings for taking delivery of the 4.5 generation aircraft that will help it dominate the regional skies.
Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, who took over on September 30, said that though IAF will be taking delivery of the first aircraft on Tuesday, the first batch of four planes will actually reach the Indian skies only in May 2020, according to Economic Times.
"By May 2020, we will be receiving four Rafale fighter jets. It will be only then that we will see the aircraft in the Indian skies. The advantage of getting the Rafale in May next year will be that our pilots will be substantially trained by then," Bhadauria said.
India is buying the 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition to boost its depleting squadron strength. IAF reckons it needs to maintain at least 42 active squadrons to remain ready for a two-front engagement. The reportedly high level of attrition, particularly in the IAF's Soviet-era MiG-21 fleet has depleted the IAF fleet strength to about 30.
Bahdauria, however, denied reports that India might buy another 36 Rafale fighters. He clarified that the country is going ahead with the acquisition of 114 medium multirole combat aircraft for which IAF has received requests for information (RFI) from several global manufacturers.
"We have started the process for AON," the report quoted the IAF chief as saying. Among the manufacturers are Dassault, Lockheed Martin of the US with its F-21 upgrades, Saab of Sweden with Gripen, and MiG-35 from Russia.
The IAF is in the process of phasing out its ageing MiG-21 fleet, the mainstay of the IAF's multirole fighter fleet. All MiG-21 aircraft that have not received the mid-life upgrade (MLU) to Bison standard will be decommissioned by the end of the year.
Bison variants catapulted Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to fame after his aircraft was shot down by an F-16 of an intruding Pakistani Air Force (PAF) formation on February 27. Varthaman, who ejected and landed on the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and taken prisoner, was returned to India following conventions of war.
Varthaman had shot down an intruding F-16 with the medium-range Russian R-73 air-to-air missile before he was hit by a longer-range AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM). The PAF bravado was apparently in response to Indian strike on Balakot's Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) training camp to avenge the terror blast in Pulwama.
Singh became the first defence minister to fly on Tejas when he took off from HAL Airport in Bengaluru on a twin-seater version of the world's smallest 4th generation fighter.
Tejas is a single-engine multirole fighter that was indigenously developed. Singh had then said the aircraft was evincing interest from several countries. He said he had a smooth and comfortable flight and the aircraft was a tribute to the skill and innovation of the country's scientists and engineers.