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Indo-French defence ties soar as more Rafales come in

A file image of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with the Rafale jet

India gets three more Rafale combat aircraft today as they fly non-stop from France. With the new additions, India will have a fleet of 11 Rafale jets.

The Indian Embassy in France tweeted: "Adding more strength to India's air power. Wishing our amazing pilots a smooth flight and safe landing with superb fighter jets."

Manufactured by French company Dassault Aviation, the aircraft took off from Istres in France on Wednesday. Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots are being trained in batches at the Saint-Dizier air base in France.

India had received the first batch of five Rafale aircraft on July 29, 2020 while the second batch of three arrived on November 4, 2020 after flying non-stop from France. India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 Rafale jets at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.

A 4.5 generation aircraft, it has proven to be a game-changer for the Indian defence forces due to the latest weapons, superior sensors and fully integrated architecture. An omni-role aircraft, it can carry out at least four missions in one sortie.

The IAF is already using the planes for regular sorties in Ladakh – close to the border with China. The state-of-the-art fighters have tilted the air power balance in favour of India against aggressive allies – China and Pakistan.

Just last week, the air forces of the two countries held their five-day joint air exercises in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, which included the Rafale fighters, airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), mid-air refuellers and other jets.

Info-French relations have moved into high gear after China's aggressive stance in the Indo-Pacific region, where it has been extending itself into the Exclusive Economic Zones and air spaces of countries like Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and others.

Last year India had launched the INS Vagir—its 5th Scorpene Class submarine in Mumbai with French support. Designed by a French naval defence and energy company, the INS Vagir can undertake missions like anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance.

Despite the coronavirus and curtailment of travel, French Defence Minister Florence Parly had visited the Ambala Air Force station along with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. She had also highlighted her country's support for the Make in India initiative in defence production. She added that French defence companies are integrating themselves in India to boost global supply chains.

The supply of Rafale to India has generated extraordinary bonhomie between the two nations. Rajnath Singh said that the induction of these jets sends a big message to the globe, particularly countries eyeing India’s sovereignty. Pointing at China indirectly, Singh added that the induction of Rafales is important because of the atmosphere that has been created on the Indian border.

In January itself, the two countries held their annual strategic dialogue in Delhi. The Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement on the strategic talks, saying: "the two sides held discussions on a variety of issues including counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, defence cooperation, maritime security, regional and global issues and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region."

Both India and France have realised the importance of coming closer to maintain balance in the Info-Pacific region.  Over the last few months, India has taken notable strides in strengthening its military capability and forming strategic alliances. France has fitted well into those.