Was Indian Air Force’s Rafale Delivery ‘Delayed’ Due to COVID?

The 36 aircraft will be divided into two squadrons, with the first being based in Ambala.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of a Rafale aircraft and the IAF logo used for representational purposes.
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Come 29 July 2020, and the Air Force Station at Ambala would be looking skywards to spot the first Indian Air Force Rafale aircraft coming in to land. Four more are expected along with the first one, being led by, in all probability, the Commanding Officer of the squadron Group, Captain Harkirat Singh.

In September 2016, the Government of India had signed a deal with its French counterpart for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft under the emergency purchase route, seeing the dwindling strength of the IAF fighter assets. The package also consisted of a formidable cache of weaponry, namely, the SCALP, the Meteor and the Mica, not to mention, a state of the art simulator for personnel training.

The 36 aircraft will be divided into two squadrons, the first being based at Ambala and second based in an IAF base in the eastern sector. Out of the 36 machines, eight would be the twin seater version (RB series) and the remaining 28, the single seater version (BS series). The first consignment to land at Ambala would have two of the former and three of the latter.

Have the Deliverables Been Delayed?

With the present global condition of manufacturing and trade being affected worldwide due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on most minds is – have the Rafale deliverables been delayed, especially when the ‘dragon’ is needling us? The simple answer is ‘NO’. Call it fate or call it foresight, the Indian Air Force had a team of experts positioned in France to monitor the entire manufacturing process, even before the first nut was cast; this has been the standard procedure for most projects. It was the perseverance of this Project Management Team and French punctuality that ensured that the timelines for all deliveries were honoured.

It may be appreciated that in a coincidental convergence of events, the first Rafale was handed over to IAF on Dussehra 2019 (8 October 2019), in France, as contingents of IAF personnel marched proudly, celebrating the 87th Air Force day, at Hindon, near Delhi.

The honours of ‘Shastra Pujan’ on the auspicious day was done by the Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, who had visited the manufacturing facilities at that point of time. That was RB 001, later used for the training of some Indian pilots at France, before being flown in to India the following week along with four other subsequent deliveries. With the first batch of five aircraft being delivered on time, the delivery of 13 more aircraft is expected to be completed by end February 2021, giving the IAF its first complete squadron strength of Rafale aircraft. The remaining 18, along with the other leftover deliverables, are expected to be completed by the financial year end 2022.

Snapshot
  • In September 2016, the Government of India had signed a deal with its French counterpart for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft under the emergency purchase route.
  • With the present global condition of manufacturing and trade being affected worldwide due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on most minds is – have the Rafale deliverables been delayed?
  • The simple answer is ‘NO’.
  • Not only has the production of the flying machines happened as planned, the other associated deliverables in the contract have also been honoured.

How Quickly Was Each Rafale Produced?

With the expected date for the project completion being approximately 65 months from the date of the agreement between the two governments, and close to a year being spent on the initial paperwork, clearances and contractual obligations, it can be safely deduced that almost one aeroplane, on an average, is being built per month.

In terms of military hardware of contemporary quality, this is considered good, especially when viewed in the light of manufacturing being affected due to the global pandemic. It is also expected that by the time the first batch of five land at Ambala, the next four would also have been delivered to the IAF in France.

Not only has the production of the flying machines happened as planned, the other associated deliverables in the contract have also been honoured. The training of the crew which was divided in batches have progressed as expected, further, the weapons package crowning the Rafale deal is also on track.

The infrastructure required in India to house all of the above have also made progress as expected.

As the IAF fly boys take off from France on 27 July and fly to Ambala with halts in Italy and the Middle East, the India will await its most sophisticated and formidable fighter yet, to boost the IAF capability to defend her skies.

(Amit Ranjan Giri is a Wing Commander (Retd) of the Indian Air Force. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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