PARIS: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called on French President Emmanuel Macron here on Tuesday and the two leaders discussed stronger India-France defence and strategic ties during their "very warm and productive" meeting.
Singh arrived in France on Monday for an official handover ceremony of the first Rafale fighter jet acquired by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
During the meeting at Elysee Palace here, the official base of the French President, Singh welcomed France as an "important strategic partner" of India. The meeting was described by the ministry of defence as "very warm and productive".
"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," said a statement issued by the ministry 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.
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," said Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, who is part of the ministerial delegation to France.
Singh also held discussions with France's Armed Forces minister Florence Parly.
Admiral Bernard Rogel, Defence Advisor to the French President, was also present at the meeting.
After the talks, Singh will be flown to Merignac, a suburb of the south-western French town of Bordeaux, where he will participate in a tour of the facility of Rafale 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.
"Greetings to all IAF personnel and their families on the 87th IAF Day," Singh tweeted. "The IAF is the shining example of exemplary courage, fortitude, determination and impeccable service to our nation. These men and women in Blue have the ability to touch the sky with grit and glory," he said.
Singh is scheduled to fly a sortie in the Rafale jet following the Shastra Puja conducted by him, which will conclude with the traditional breaking of a coconut before the new aircraft.
"He will also perform the Shastra Puja on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami and fly a sortie in the Rafale fighter aircraft," a spokesperson of defence ministry said.
Members of the top military brass of France as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation will also be present at the ceremony.
India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016.
While the formal handover ceremony takes place this week, the first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020.
All 36 jets are expected to arrive in India by September 2022, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.
The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base.
The manufacturers describe it as a fully versatile aircraft which can carry out all combat aviation missions to achieve air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence "In the defence sector, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is our longest standing export customer and has been flying Dassault aircraft since 1953.
The acquisition contract for 36 Rafale signed in 2016 and the modernisation of the Mirage 2000 I/TI are a continuation of this historic partnership," Dassault Aviation said in a statement.
The Rafale jets intended for India are expected to come with certain bespoke modifications for the IAF and have been awaited as a crucial enhancement to India's Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft fleet.
The first Rafale jet will come with tail number RB 001, with RB denoting the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria who played a key role in striking the deal for the jets in his previous role as IAF deputy chief.
The handover ceremony will be followed by the annual Indo-French Defence Dialogue between Singh and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly back in Paris on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, the minister is scheduled to address CEOs representing leading French defence industry enterprises.
As part of a wider 'Make in India' message, Singh will invite them to participate in the DefExpo to be held in Lucknow from February 5 to 8 next year.