Paris: Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday formally received the first of the 36 much-awaited Rafale fighter jets from the Dassault assembly line facility in France’s Mérignac. Notably, this coincided with 87th Indian Air Force foundation day, and Dussehra which was celebrated across India yesterday.

“It is a historic day and shows deepening ties between India and France. Rafale will add to the strength of IAF. Our focus is to enhance the capability of IAF. We are sure that all timelines would be adhered to, be it jets or weapon systems,” Rajnath said at the handover ceremony.

“I am told that Rafale is a French word meaning gust of wind. I am sure the aircraft will live up to its name. I believe Rafale will boost India’s air dominance exponentially to ensure peace and security in the region,” he added.

The first Rafale jet was received following a traditional ‘Shastra Puja’ at the facility.

It must be noted that Rajnath is in France on a three-day tour for the acceptance of the Rafale jets.

On his first day, the Defence Minister also went for a sortie in a twin-seater trainer version of the fighter aircraft.

“It was a very comfortable and smooth flight. It was an unprecedented moment, I had never thought that one day I will fly at supersonic speed in an aircraft,” Rajnath said after taking a sortie in the Rafale jet.

He stated that India will get 18 Rafale jets by February 2021, while all the 36 will be delivered by April-May 2022. “This is a part of our self-defence and not a sign of aggression against anyone. It is a deterrent,” he said.

Before the handing over ceremony, he was shown a short audio-visual clip on the history of aircraft manufacturing by Dassault. His French counterpart Florence Parly was also present during the handover ceremony.

“Former (French) President Jacques Chirac had laid the basic groundwork for strategic partnership between India and France along with Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee. We are thankful to them. Today is a milestone day for Indio-France strategic partnership and a new high in bilateral defence co-operation,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Defence Minister met French President Emanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in the French capital. He was accompanied by the newly-appointed vice chief of Air Staff, air marshal HS Arora.

On Wednesday, Rajnath will meet heads of the French defence industry. He is also expected to hold annual defence dialogue with the French Minister of Armed Forces.

He will also address CEOs representing leading French defence industry enterprises. As part of a wider ‘Make in India’ message, Singh will invite them to participate in the DefExpo to be held in Lucknow from February 5 to 8 next year.

Notably, India had signed a deal with the French government and Dassault Aviation in September 2016, to acquire 36 Rafale fighter jets for over 7.8 billion euros to arrest the fall of combat squadrons and meet urgent requirements on the eastern and western fronts.