NEW DELHI: Despite the ongoing political slugfest in relation with the Rafale deal with France, the Indian Air Force is making preparations to welcome the fighter jet, official sources said on Sunday. According to sources, the IAF is sending a batch of pilots to France to train on how to operate the jets. A number of IAF teams have already visited France to help Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, incorporate India-specific enhancements in the fighter aircraft.
India and France had inked a deal in September 2016 for the procurement of 36 jets at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. The delivery of the fighter aircraft is expected to start from September next year. 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 Opposition has targeted the government on the deal raising questions about the price. The government, on the other hand, has rejected all the charges. According to sources, the first squadron of Rafale jets would be stationed at the Ambala Air Force Station due to the fact that it is strategically placed just 200 kms from the Indo-Pakistan border. The second Rafale squadron will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal. Officials said the government has already sanctioned around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases. Sources said France has been regularly briefing India about the progress in the project to supply the jets.
In July 2017, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, during his visit to France, flew a Rafale jet at the Saint-Dizier airbase to gain a first-hand experience of the aircraft. According to the deal, the delivery of the jets will start in 36 months and will be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was inked. Meanwhile, senior Supreme Court lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan said IAF officials have been forced to praise the new Rafale fighter aircraft deal signed.