Amid political controversy in India, the first Made-For-India Rafale fighter jet—RB008—is all set to take off on its inaugural flight in France this month end. Earlier, the flight was scheduled to take off on Sunday, 14 October, but it was shifted to the end of October because of unspecified reasons.
“This will be the first of the 36 Rafale fighter jets ordered by India,” said a top Ministry of Defence source. The fighter jet has been numbered as RB 008, after Air Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria, who is Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Training Command of the Indian Air Force. Air Marshal Bhadauria was the Deputy Chief of Indian Air Force and head of the Cost Negotiating Committee when the deal was signed in 2016.
There are eight such planes in the series—from RB001 to RB008, all twin-seaters. Besides, there are 28 other fighter jets under the BS series (BS001 to BS028), which are single-seaters, numbered after Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.
Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar, who had flown the French Rafale (Test Bed B302), a twin-seater, on 22 September, when he was Deputy Chief of Air Staff, said: “It’s a good aircraft. I felt satisfied. And now the IAF should get all the Rafale fighter jets as per the delivery schedule.”
An Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) four-member project management team (PMT) is camping in France for the last one year to monitor the production and India specific enhancements of the 36 Rafale fighter jets.
After this inaugural flight, the first Rafale fighter jet is scheduled to be delivered to India in September 2019. In a reply given to the Rajya Sabha in July this year, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said: “Delivery of Rafale fighter jets in a fly-away condition along with associated equipment and weapons will commence from September 2019 and will be completed by April 2022.”
These jets have 13 India specific enhancements. These include helmet mounted display, low band jammer, radar enhancement, radio altimeter, towed decoy system and ability to start and operate from high altitude air space.
This month’s scheduled inaugural flight follows soon after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to France, during which she went to Argenteuil, where the manufacturing plant of Dassault Aviation, makers of the fighter planes, is located.
Even as the inaugural flight is all set to take place, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday met HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) employees, claiming that Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer, which makes the Rafale jet, has been pressured by the government to select the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence as its offset partner, instead of state-run HAL.