French Rafale jets fly non-stop to India after earlier Iranian missile scare

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A second batch of Rafale fighter jets has safely arrived in India after flying non-stop from France. This after a previous delivery of combat aircraft in July faced a security scare from Iran during a stop-over at an airbase in the United Arab Emirates.

The three jets will join five other Rafale aircraft that arrived 29 July, nearly four years after India agreed to pay 7.8 billion Euros to France for 36 fighter planes.

“The jets were accompanied by French mid-air refueller planes during their eight-hour-plus flight” from Istres in France, an official told RFI.

The Rafale deal is rooted in a 2007 Indian plan to buy 126 combat jets to replace its vintage Russian-built planes. It was scaled down to 36 units and Dassault, the makers of the Rafale, was given the contract in 2015.

Iranian missile threat in UAE

The non-stop flight was planned to avoid a perceived security threat from Iranian missiles at United Arab Emirates’s Al Dhafra airbase where five planes of the first batch were parked during an overnight halt in July.

At the time, Iran fired missiles at a mock aircraft carrier during an exercise in the Strait of Hormuz, which put US troops on alert at Al-Dhafra and Al-Udeid air base, headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command in Qatar.

Neither Al-Dhafra nor Al-Udeid were damaged in any way during the exercise, but it was criticized by the US Navy as Iran’s “irresponsible and reckless behavior.”

Rafales a “Game Changer” for India

It was not immediately known when the three jets will join service in India but the first batch was deployed on 10 September along its disputed borders with China where the two militaries are locked in a stand-off since June.

China and India are set to hold fresh talks Friday to try and cool tensions which have led both sides to amass troops and combat jets at a flashpoint Himalayan region.

Indian Air Force chief R.K.S. Bhaduria has said France will supply the remaining 28 Rafales in installments.

“Every two or three months the Indian air force will be receiving around three-four Rafale from France and by the end of 2021, the first squadron will be fully ready,” Bhaduria added.

And India’s defense minister Rajnath Singh described the Rafales as a “game changer” for the country’s security.

"This induction sends a strong message to the world and especially those who have dared to raise their eyes at us,” Singh said during a military ceremony where the five Rafales joined service.

The new batch of Rafales arrived a week after India and the United States signed a key defense deal which experts said will help them blunt China’s growing influence in Asia.

Malabar 2020

The planes also touched down as India, Japan, the US and Australia kicked off massive naval exercises – Malabar 2020 -- in the Bay of Bengal in a show of military solidarity.

The four powers are partners in a loose strategic alliance known as Quad.

China, which has territorial disputes with India and Japan, eyes Quad with suspicion.