- Rajnath Singh accepted the handover at a facility of Dassault Aviation
- It was followed by Shastra Puja and a sortie by the minister in the jet
- The first batch of 4 Rafale jets are expected to arrive by next year
Here is the 10-point cheat sheet on Rafale handover ceremony:
"It is a historic day and shows deepening ties between India and France," defence minister Rajnath Singh said at the handover ceremony for the Rafale aircraft. "Rafale will add to the strength of IAF. Our focus is to enhance the capability of IAF. We are sure that all timelines would be adhered to, be it jets or weapon systems," Mr Singh said.
"This aircraft marks a massive enhancement in the Indian Air Force combat capability but that enhancement is not for attack purposes but as a deterrent for self defence. And, the credit for this milestone goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose decisiveness has made this crucial air enhancement possible today," he said.
The handover ceremony took place on Wednesday at a facility of Dassault Aviation, the makers of the aircraft, in the Merignac area of Bordeaux, around 590 km from Paris. It was accompanied by Shastra Puja - the traditional worship of weapons that mark Dussehra. India is celebrating not only Dussehra, but also the 87th Air Force Day on Tuesday.
With the national flag as the backdrop, the minister cracked a coconut and marked the aircraft with the Sanskrit mantra "Om", before starting on the sortie.
During the sortie, the Defence Minister sat in the rear cockpit while a French pilot flew the customised aircraft with tail number RB-01. RB stands for the newly appointed IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduria, in recognition of his role in striking the Rafale deal in 2016.
"It was a very comfortable and smooth flight... I never thought that one day I will fly at super sonic speed in an aircraft," news agency ANI quoted Mr Singh as saying afterwards.
The first batch of four Rafale jets -- part of the Rs. 59,000-crore deal made in September 2016 -- are expected to arrive in India in May next year. The rest of the aircraft will arrive by September 2022, for which the Air Force has been making preparations, including training of pilots.
Earlier on Tuesday, after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Rajnath Singh tweeted: "Had an excellent meeting with the President of France Mr. @EmmanuelMacron at Elysee Palace in Paris today. We had a comprehensive discussion covering a wide range of issues".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited France in August last year, during which both nations had resolved to further enhance the already close defence ties. Soon after taking over as the air chief in September, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria has said that the acquisition of the Rafale jet fighter would give India "an edge over Pakistan and China".
"Rafale is a very capable aircraft, once we induct it, it will be a gamechanger in terms of our operational capability and when we use it in combination with SU-30 and other fleets which we have, we would have a serious jump in our capability," he had said.