Rajnath Singh meets French president Emmanuel Macron; shastra puja, Rafale sortie next

Defence minister Rajnath Singh had a “very warm and productive” meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday ahead of an official handover ceremony of the first Rafale fighter jet acquired by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Rajnath Singh welcomed France as an “important strategic partner” of India during the meeting at Elysee Palace in the French capital of Paris.

“The meeting demonstrated the depth of India-France bilateral partnership, especially in the defence sector, that has significantly strengthened in recent times. Both leaders resolved to take the relationship to the next higher level,” the ministry said in a statement after the 35-minute meeting.

“Singh thanked President Macron for his strong support to further intensifying the strategic partnership between the two countries and for his support to the Make in India initiative,” it added.

Had an excellent meeting with the President of France Mr. @EmmanuelMacron at Elysee Palace in Paris today.

We had a comprehensive discussion covering a wide range of issues.

Singh also held discussions with France’s armed forces minister Florence Parly. Defence advisor to the French President, Admiral Bernard Rogel, was also present at the meeting.

He also expressed condolences on the demise of former French President Jacques Chirac on behalf of the Indian government.

“We have a multi-dimensional relationship with France and the ties are progressing on all fronts. The talks today are part of a comprehensive defence dialogue between the two countries,” defence secretary Ajay Kumar, who is part of the ministerial delegation to France, was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

Singh had tweeted after his arrival in Paris on Monday that he was “delighted to be France”.

“This great nation is India’s important strategic partner and our special relationship goes far beyond the realm of formal ties. My visit to France is aimed at expanding the existing strategic partnership between both the countries,” he had said.

Handover ceremony ::

Singh will then fly to Merignac, a suburb of the south-western French town of Bordeaux, where he will take a tour of the facility of Rafale’s manufacturer Dassault Aviation before a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first Rafale combat jet.

Arrangements have also been made for a traditional shastra puja, or weapons’ worship which forms part of Dussehra celebrations and this year also marks Air Force Day - IAF’s 87th anniversary.

Singh is scheduled to fly a sortie in the Rafale jet following the Shastra puja, which will conclude with the traditional breaking of coconut before the new aircraft, a defence ministry spokesperson said.

“The plane would be flown by a French pilot as Indian pilots have started training on these India specific Rafales just recently,” news agency ANI quoted unnamed defence sources as saying.

The ceremony coincides with the foundation day of the Indian Air Force as well as the day when Dussehra is being celebrated.

Members of the top brass of the French military as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation will also be present at the ceremony.

Tailor-made for India ::

All 36 fighter planes will arrive by September 2022, a small step on the long road towards building a stronger air force.

India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore on September 23, 2016 — a deal that was at the centre of a political controversy in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The 2016 Rafale deal was an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the IAF’s combat capabilities. The count of the IAF’s fighter squadrons has reduced to 31 compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan.

The Indian fighters will be equipped with Meteor missiles built by European defence major MBDA Missile Systems. The Meteor’s no-escape zone is touted to be three times greater than that of current medium-range air-to-air missiles.

The jets have been tailored for the IAF. India-specific enhancements include helmet-mounted sight, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with enough storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, jammers, cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases, and towed decoys to lure incoming missiles away.

The first Rafale jet will come with tail number RB 001 denoting the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria, who played a key role in striking the deal for the jets in his previous role as IAF’s deputy chief.

The handover ceremony will be followed by the annual Indo-French Defence Dialogue between Singh and French armed forces minister Parly back in Paris on Tuesday evening.

Singh is scheduled to address CEOs representing leading French defence industry enterprises on Wednesday. Singh will invite them to participate in the defence expo to be held in Lucknow in February next year.