NEW DELHI: Three Rafale jets quietly flew into India for a three-day halt at military bases in a low-key military diplomatic affair, apparently due to the political storm raging over alleged irregularities in the purchase of the fighter aircraft from a French firm.
The three Rafale jets flown by the French Air Force (FAF) pilots were returning from Exercise Pitch Black 2018 at Darwin in Australia, in which 16 nations from across the globe, including the Indian Air Force, had taken part.
The Rafale fighter aircraft and transport aircraft staged through Air Force Station, Gwalior, and Air Force Station, Agra, from September 1-4, an IAF spokesperson said.
The French jets took off on Tuesday evening from Gwalior. The Maharajpur airbase in Gwalior is home to two Mirage 2000 squadrons. Both the Mirage and Rafale are manufactured by the same French maker - Dassault Aviation.
"During the staging period, FAF and IAF carried out basic joint training, which included fighter sorties by pilots in their respective aircraft with observers onboard each other's transport aircraft supporting the missions.
"This interaction with FAF provided a unique opportunity for exchange of experience and sharing of best practices during cooperative deployment," the spokesperson said.
During the military drill in Australia, it is believed that Indian Su-30 fighter pilots flew in the same three Rafales.
Though a picture of one of the three jets in India had emerged on the social media on Tuesday, the official announcement regarding their stay was only made a day after their departure.
Usually, such military diplomatic events are widely publicized.
Apparently, the halt of Rafale jets was not announced in advance because of the allegations of massive irregularities in the Rafale deal. The Congress has maintained that the Modi government was procuring each aircraft at a cost higher than the rate finalised by the UPA government.