Rafale planes have low key presence at IAF base

Congress activists during a demonstration rally to protest against the reported scam in Rafale deal, in Kolkata on Friday. PTI

The ongoing political slugfest on the Rafale fighter jet deal has turned three of the jets' brief stay at Gwalior this week into a low-key affair. The two governments have not even released a single photograph of the aircraft.

The jets belonged to the French Air Force (FAF) and were on their way back home after taking part in Exercise Pitch Black in Australia. They stopped earlier in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore before reaching India.

While the fighters stayed at Gwalior— also the home base of Indian Air Force's French origin Mirage jets— the supporting planes in the French detachment comprising one Atlas A-400M military transport aircraft, one C-135 refueling aircraft, and one Airbus A310 cargo stayed at Agra, which is a major IAF base for transport aircraft.

They were in India between September 1 and 4.

The French pilots flew the Rafale in the Indian skies. “FAF and IAF carried out basic joint training, which included fighter sorties by pilots in their respective aircraft with observers on-board each others' transport aircraft supporting the missions,” says an IAF official, asserting that IAF pilots didn't fly the French jets.

The interaction with the FaF provided a unique opportunity for exchange of experience and sharing of best practices during cooperative deployment, he said.

Both sides were extra-cautious to ensure no photographs of the Rafale flights were released. The only picture released was that of the French crew with French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler at an evening get together in Gwalior.

“In Gwalior, delighted to meet the pilots and officers in charge of the Mission Pegase, which has projected a detachment of 3 Rafale combat jets, one Airbus A-400M military transport aircraft, one C-135 refuelling aircraft, and one Airbus A310 cargo aircraft. Amazed by the quality of the exchanges between our two Air Forces as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our strategic partnership this year,” he tweeted.

The French Embassy too released a brief statement, “During the three-day stopover at the Air Force Stations of Gwalior and Agra, joint flights and exchanges between the FAF and IAF will be conducted. This mission in India is yet another illustration of the depth of the Indo-French strategic partnership, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.”

The three Rafale reached India at a time when the government's decision to buy 36 Rafale combat jets from France in a Rs 59,000 crore government-to-government contract had triggered a major political row with the Congress accusing the BJP-led NDA government of corruption in the deal.

IAF expects to receive its first Rafale by September 2019.

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