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French defence minister likely to visit India to attend Rafale induction ceremony

French Defence Minister Florence Parly is likely to visit India around September 10 to attend a ceremony to formally induct the five Rafale fighter jets into the Indian Air Force (IAF) and hold talks with her Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh to further boost strategic ties, people familiar with the development said on Friday.

They said the IAF had proposed September 10 to hold the ceremony, adding that both the Indian and French sides were in touch with each other for the possible visit by Parly.

The first batch of five Rafale combat jets, manufactured by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, arrived at the Ambala airbase on July 29. The jets are yet to be formally inducted into the IAF.

Sources said the Defence Minister, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and the entire top military brass of the country will attend the event at the Ambala airbase.

In a telephonic conversation with Singh on June 2, Parly had conveyed her readiness to visit India to further explore ways to enhance bilateral defence ties.

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 Rafale jet is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets.

Meteor is a next-generation beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.

Of the 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.

While the first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed at the Ambala airbase, the second one will be based at the Hasimara base in West Bengal.