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SOURCE: INDIA TODAY

The first set of photos of second Rafale jet – RB 002 – have been released and they will take your breath away. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh formally took delivery of the first of the 36 long-awaited French-made aircraft acquired by the Indian Air Force at a ceremony in Merignac, France, on Tuesday.

The three aircraft are named RB 001, RB 002 and RB 003 – denoting the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria who played a key role in striking the deal for the jets in his previous role as IAF deputy chief. Rajnath Singh attended the handover ceremony of RB 001 along with his French counterpart Florence Parly at aircraft maker Dassault Aviation facility in Merignac, southwestern France, on Tuesday.

Rajnath Singh performed a Shastra Puja on the new aircraft as he emblazoned it with an ‘Om’ tilak and laid flowers and a coconut, just before he was to take off in it for a sortie in the newly-acquired two-seater jet.

Singh, who changed into combat flight gear for the sortie after Puja, said the aircraft will enhance the Indian Air Force combat capability massively — intended only for self-defence.

“We do not purchase arms and other defence equipments to threaten any country but to increase our capabilities and strengthen our defences,” 68-year-old Singh said.

“I had never imagined that I would be flown at supersonic speed; a very comfortable and smooth flight during which I was able to observe the many capabilities of the jet, its air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities,” he said, describing his sortie as a memorable and once in a lifetime experience.

Rajnath Singh said that a large number of IAF officers and airmen are being trained in France for flying, maintenance support and logistics for handling Rafale and hoped the training will help them in acquiring knowledge and professional expertise required for performing their task in India.

Florence Parly described the Rafale as a symbol of the best France has to offer India to protect its sovereignty and also of the French commitment to the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

This range of Rafale fighter jets have been specially designed to meet the needs of the IAF, which its manufacturer described as a new step in the company’s long-standing relationship with India.

“The history of our relationship started in 1953 with delivery of Toofani for the Indian Air Force and since then we have had a continuous and unfailing commitment to this country, supported by successive French governments,” said Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation.

“These aircraft, which are on course to be delivered on scheduled as per the agreement signed in September 2016, have been created to meet the highly demanding needs of the Indian Air Force, which operates in a very sensitive geopolitical environment,” he said.

It was revealed that an Indian Rafale project monitoring team has been based in France since August 2017 to ensure the smooth implementation of the project, aimed at considerably enhancing India’s air combat fleet.

In Bordeaux, Rajnath Singh began with a tour of Dassault Aviation’s final Rafale assembly line. He was accompanied by Armed Forces personnel including Air Marshall Harjit Singh Arora. Representatives of the top military brass from the French side were also present on the occasion.

India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016.

While the formal handover ceremony takes place this week, the first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020. All 36 jets are expected to arrive in India by September 2022, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.