In the midst of a political firestorm over the Rafale jet deal, the Indian Air Force is quietly making preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft, official sources said.
They said the IAF is sending a batch of pilots by the end of this year to France for training on Rafale jets.
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.
India had inked 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 delivery of the jets — capable of carrying a range of potent weapons and missiles — is scheduled to begin from September next year.
Sources said Dassault Aviation has already started test flight of Rafale jets to be supplied to India and the company has been told to strictly adhere to the timeline for delivery of the 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.
A team of IAF pilots have already trained on Rafale jets in France and they will again go there by end of the year, sources said.
The Congress has raised several questions about the deal, including rates of the aircraft, while the government has rejected the charges.
Sources said the first squadron of the aircraft will be deployed in 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.
Officials said the government has already sanctioned around Rs 400 crore to develop required infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases.
The sources said France has been regularly briefing India about progress in the project to supply the jets.
In July last year, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, during his visit to France, flew a Rafale jet at the Saint-Dizier airbase to gain a first-hand experience of the aircraft.
According to the deal, the delivery of the jets will start in 36 months and will be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was inked.