Hours before leaving for France to receive the first of 36 long-awaited Rafale fighter jets on behalf of the Indian Air Force, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh today tweeted that he was looking forward to taking India-France ties to a whole new level during his visit.
"Leaving New Delhi for Paris on a three-day visit to France. Shall attend the Annual Defence Dialogue and the Induction Ceremony of Rafale. India-France bilateral relations have made tremendous progress in recent years. Looking forward to further and deepen these ties," he tweeted.
The Union Minister will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, before proceeding to Bordeaux to participate in the Rafale fighter jet handing-over ceremony at Merignac along with French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly.
The same day, he will perform "Shastra Puja" - a ritual that involves the worship of weapons - to mark the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami and undertake a sortie on a Rafale fighter jet. "As per plans, a French pilot will fly in the front cockpit while Singh sits in the rear cockpit. The first Indian Rafale fighter jet with tail number RB-01 will be used for the sortie," news agency ANI quoted sources in the IAF as saying.
RB stands for newly appointed IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduria, in recognition of his role in striking the Rs 60,000-crore Rafale deal in 2016.
Other highlights in the Defence Minister's itinerary include the annual defence dialogue with the French Minister of Armed Forces and a meeting with heads of the French defence industry on Wednesday.
In September 2016, India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore. The IAF has already trained pilots and set up the required infrastructure in preparation for their arrival. However, while the first jet will be handed over to India on Tuesday, the first batch of four aircraft will come only by May next year.
Sources said the first squadron of the aircraft will be deployed at the Ambala air force station, located at a distance of just 220 km from the India-Pakistan border.
(With inputs from ANI)