Five Rafales took off from Dassault’s Bordeaux-Mérignac factory airfield on July 27 at the start of their ferry flight to India, where they were expected to arrive on July 29. The journey is being conducted in two stages, with the aircraft having arrived safely for a planned stop at Al Dhafra air base in Abu Dhabi, from where the French air force operates a detachment of Rafales.
The Indian aircraft—three Rafale EH single-seaters and a pair of DH two-seaters—are the first to be delivered from an order for 36, which was signed on September 23, 2016. They are arriving at a time of heightened tension with China along the disputed border in eastern Ladakh. Deliveries of all 36 are due to be completed by the end of 2021.
The departure of the Rafales was attended by the Indian ambassador to France, His Excellency Shri Jawed Ashraf, and Dassault’s chairman and CEO, Eric Trappier. “I am strongly impressed by the amazing efficiency and determination of the Indian Air Force and Indian Ministry of Defense, despite this unprecedented world health crisis, to master rapidly all aspects of the Rafale for comforting Indian sovereignty and contributing to the protection and security of Indian people,” Trappier commented.
The Dassault CEO continued by noting that the co-operation between Dassault and the Indian Air Force began in 1953, when the Ouragan jet fighter was delivered, to be known as the Toofani in Indian Air Force (IAF) service. Dassault subsequently supplied Mystère IV and Mirage 2000 fighters.
The first batch of Rafales is destined for Air Force Station Ambala in Haryana state, where No. 17 “Golden Arrows” squadron has been reformed to operate them. A second squadron will be located at AFS Hasimara in West Bengal. Indian pilots have been training in France with Dassault and the air force for more than a year, and have undertaken the ferry flight. In service the aircraft will be armed with a variety of weapons, including the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile and the MBDA Scalp long-range precision attack missile. Days before the departure of the aircraft from France, it was announced that the IAF has selected the Sagem AASM Hammer precision-guided bomb to arm the Rafales, and that they will be bought quickly under an emergency procurement program.
Accompanying the Rafales for the ferry trip and providing mid-air refueling were two Airbus A330 MRTT Phénix tanker/transports of the French air force. One of the aircraft carried 70 ventilators and 100,000 test kits to aid India’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, accompanied by 10 personnel from the French military medical organization to support India’s civilian authorities.
Earlier in July the Armée de l’Air took delivery at Istres of its third Phénix, the aircraft arriving four months ahead of schedule. The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) that oversees French military procurement has accelerated deliveries of the 12 A330s on order so that the last will be delivered in 2023 instead of the originally planned date of 2025.
France has also announced that three more A330s will be added to the fleet, raising the total to 15, as part of the government’s Covid-19 aerospace industry support plan. These aircraft will replace the Armée de l’Air’s Airbus A310 and A340 strategic transport aircraft, and are due to be converted to MRTT standard after 2025.