French Rafale fighters will join Indian Air Force aircraft in June 3 exercises. (KARIM SAHIB/AFP)
NEW DELHI — The French Rafale fighter aircraft, shortlisted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) for its $12 billion Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program, will engage with IAF aircraft in June 3 joint exercises over the Rajasthan desert.
The Indo-French air exercise, Garuda-5, will include four Rafale multirole fighter aircraft and one air refueler that will participate with IAF’s multirole Su-30MKI, MiG-27 and MiG-21 aircraft.
While the exercise is unlikely to test the performance of the Russian or the French aircraft, it will expose to IAF personnel the French aircraft’s capabilities in maneuvers, said an IAF official. The MMRCA deal, in which Rafale is the preferred aircraft, has been in the contract negotiations stage for more than a year and is awaiting finalization.
“Preference for the French Rafale during the exercise by IAF pilots and personnel will lead to voices from within the IAF for an early inking of the MMRCA contract,” said Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst here.
The Indian Defence Ministry also has shortlisted the purchase of six Airbus A330 air refueling tankers for the IAF at a cost of over $1 billion, but that deal also has yet to be signed.
The objective of the Indo-French exercise is to expose IAF pilots to French fighter tactics and the French pilots to Indian fighter tactics, in addition to exposing IAF crew to air-to-air refueling, said the IAF official. ■