Dassault Aviation delivered the first of 36 Rafale fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday. The fighter jet, named RB 001, is due to be sent to India only in May 2020, along with another three aircraft – before that it will serve as a familiarization aircraft for Indian pilots.
India ordered the Rafale in September 2016 for 7.9 billion euros. The fighters will be part of the 17th Golden Arrows squadron, which operated the former Russian MiG-21s until 2011 and has been shut down ever since.
The country is only the third to operate the Rafale, not to mention France. The first international fighter customer is Egypt, which ordered and received the first aircraft in 2015. In early 2019, Qatar became Dassault’s fighter second costumer.
The French company’s plans, however, are more ambitious about India. To support the Rafale operation, Dassault has the support of two partners, Thales and Safran, which have subsidiaries in the Asian country.
One of the reasons for this approach with the Indians is in the IAF’s new order for 114 fighters, which should have part of the production done in the country. Dassault competes for the order with manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Saab, Boeing, UAC and Eurofighter.
“I am particularly honored to host this ceremony today as India is part of Dassault Aviation’s DNA. The long and trustful relationship we share is an undeniable success and underpins my determination of establishing for the long term Dassault Aviation in India. We stand alongside the Indian Air Force since 1953, we are totally committed to meeting its requirements for decades to come and to be part of India’s ambitious vision for the future,” has declared Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation.
The Air Force of India currently operates a fleet of fighters of French and Russian origin. From old MiG-21s and Mirage 2000s to newer fighters such as the MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-30, the most numerous of the force. Since 2015, it also has HAL Tejas, a locally developed fighter with support from Dassault.
Due to frequent conflicts with Pakistan, the Indian Air Force has expanded its power. In February, MiG-21 fighters entered combat with Pakistani planes and shot down an F-16.