The arrival of the first batch of Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force is likely to be delayed by around three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as France battles rising infections and deaths, and continuing lockdown restrictions, which have also impacted the training schedule, defence sources said.
“In mid-March there were 8-9 weeks of training left before the first major group could move to India for starting operations here. Some logistic support equipment and test equipment were also to be flown to Ambala beginning April, which is postponed as of now due to the lockdown and restrictions on flights imposed by India,” a defence source told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.
‘No clear timeframe’
In addition, the lockdown restrictions are expected to continue in France at least till the end of April due to severity of the outbreak. “So, it is only obvious that we expect corresponding delay,” the two sources separately stated.
“Taking in the delay due to the lockdown in France, followed by any restrictions on flights and personnel coming from Europe imposed by India, we could be looking at July[for the arrival of the aircraft],” the first source stated, adding that the timeframe was not clear yet.
In October 2019, on a visit to France for the second India-France ministerial-level annual defence dialogue, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh took formal delivery of the first Rafale jet built for the IAF at the Dassault Aviation’s facility in Merignac. The jets were scheduled to arrive in India by May 2020.
In addition, the Defence Ministry had stated that during the dialogue the “French side has agreed to consider the Indian request for 8-10 Meteor missiles to be given to India by 2020 with the first four aircraft”.
May 2020 deadline
In November, Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik said in a written reply to Parliament that three Rafale aircraft have been handed over to the IAF. By May 2020, 24 IAF pilots along with engineers and technicians were scheduled to be trained on the Indian jets in France. Three IAF pilots and two technical officers were trained earlier on French Air Force (FAF) Rafales as per the terms of the contract.