The minister left for Paris on Monday to receive the first batch of medium multi-role fighter jets at a ceremony.
Ahead of his departure from Delhi, Rajnath Singh said that he will attend the Annual Defence Dialogue and induction ceremony of the Rafales at Merignac along with French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly during his three-day visit to France.
The minister will also perform the Shastra Puja (Worship of Weapons) on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami, a Hindu festival which marks the triumph of good over evil, and fly a sortie in a Rafale fighter aircraft.
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.
Nevertheless, Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria has clarified that the force will not consider purchasing additional Rafales, as offered by France. Rather the force, facing a shortage of at least 11 squadrons (18-20 fighter jets in each squadron), is focussing on acquiring 114 fighter jets as announced last year under a strategic partnership model.
India needs 42 squadrons of fighter jets, as per an assessment made by a parliamentary panel, in order to dominate a simultaneous attack from both China and Pakistan.
However, according to the plan unveiled by the Indian Air Force chief, the force is unlikely to achieve the requirement of 42 squadrons within the next 12 years, as the force has to retire its six Jaguar squadrons and its last remaining MiG-21s due to the completion of their technical lifespan in the early 2020s.
“We have had to drop the plan for re-engining the Jaguar because it has been delayed inordinately and the cost went too high…The non-BISON MiG-21s will retire by the end of this year, or go up to March 2020 at the most. Only the MiG-21 BISON fleet will be left and will go up to the end of its technical life [in 2021]”, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said.
Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force has already informed Moscow about an additional purchase of Su-30s and MiG-29s to ramp up its fighting ability.
The Narendra Modi-led government took a lot of heat, as opposition parties levelled corruption charges against it over the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Later, the apex body gave a clean chit to the government after scrutinising files related to the deal.
In September 2016, India signed a deal with French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation to acquire 36 Rafale fighter aircraft worth over 7.8 billion euros to remedy the shortfall of Indian Air Force (IAF) combat squadrons.