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First batch of Rafale jets to come to India in May 2020: IAF Chief

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NEW DELHI (PTI):  The first four of 36 Rafale jets will come to India by May next year and the aircraft will significantly enhance the IAF's combat prowess, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said on Friday.

In his first press conference after taking charge of the top post on September 30, Bhadauria said the acquisition of the Rafale aircraft and the S-400 missile systems will give major boost to IAF's operational capability.

India sealed a deal with Russia in October last year to procure a batch of S-400 air defence missiles at a cost of USD 5 billion.

The IAF Chief also said the induction of the potent Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters has already added a punch to the force's overall aerial prowess.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is scheduled to travel to France on October 7 on a three-day visit, primarily to receive the first Rafale fighter jet.

Bhadauria said though India will receive the first Rafale jets next week, the aircraft will come to India only in May.

"A batch of four Rafale jets will come to India in May next year," he said.

India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.

The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons and missiles.

Asked whether IAF was looking at buying another batch of 36 Rafale jets, the IAF chief said no such proposal is on the table and that the force is focussing on acquiring 114 fighter jets as announced last year.

The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft.

The sources said the first squadron of the aircraft will be deployed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there.

The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.

A number of IAF teams have already visited France to help Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, incorporate India-specific enhancements on-board the fighter aircraft.

The Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems among others.

The Congress raised several questions about the deal, including on rates of the aircraft, and alleged corruption but the government has rejected the charges.

Asked about price of each Rafale, Bhadauria, who had led the team that negotiated the deal, refuse to give details saying the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report explained the details.

The IAF spent around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases.

According to the deal, the delivery of the jets was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was signed.

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