Assuring that five of the 36 French Rafale combat aircraft purchased by India can be deployed at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at a short notice, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday that though India strives for peace, it would not let its sovereignty and territorial integrity be compromised under any circumstances.
Speaking during the induction ceremony of the 4.5 generation Rafale aircraft at the Air Force station in Ambala, Singh lauded the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the speed with which it deployed its assets at the forward bases in Ladakh during the border tensions with China.
"This has once again proven the Air Force''s state of preparedness to fulfil its role in case of any contingency. Everyone knows that India strives for world peace, but considering the situation in Ladakh, we need to be vigilant," the Defence Minister said.
The Rafale fighter jet is equipped with a wide range of weapons and it performs air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions.
Calling the day an important and historic occasion, Singh said that it also demonstrated the country''s deep ties with France, not just in defence but also in economic, strategic and security sectors.
"This stems from our absolute commitment to democracy and belief in the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. We have chalked out a future-ready relationship and understand the problems faced by both the countries," Singh said.
Stressing that the Rafale deal with France was a game changer, Singh said the IAF had used French combat aircraft in the 1965 India-Pakistan war and during the 1999 Kargil conflict.
"I am glad that now we have one of the best multi-role aircraft in the world which will be instrumental for our border security. During my recent visit to Moscow, I made it clear that India would not compromise its sovereignty and territorial integrity," the Defence Minister said.
He further said that India''s security concerns extended to the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, and the partnership with France is not limited to only Rafale. "We are also collaborating on the Scorpene submarines being built in India," he said.
Inviting France to invest in the Indian defence sector, the minister said that the government had undertaken several major policy reforms to attract international and national investments in the defence sector.
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, who was also present on the occasion along with a French delegation, said that the induction of Rafale was a stellar achievement for both the countries.
"We are writing a new chapter in our ties. In French, ''Rafale'' means ''Gust of Wind'' or ''burst of fire''. Both express incredible strength, which is also a symbol of our strong ties," she said.
Proclaiming France''s support for India''s permanent seat in the UN Security Council, she said that the inclusion of Rafale in the Indian inventory means that the latter has access to a world-class technology, thereby providing it an edge in the entire region.
"Behind these majestic machines, there is a commonality of values. These jets are fully combat proven and have seen action in Iraq, Mali and Syria," she said.
Stressing that coming to India is a unique experience for the country''s vivid colours, breathtaking landscapes and rich history, an encounter that can''t be easily forgotten, the French minister added, "France is fully committed towards the ''Make in India'' initiative and further integration of Indian manufacturers in our global supply chain."
Parly added that the remaining jets would be supplied to India as soon as possible and that she was confident of coming up with new ideas to further strengthen the bond between the two countries.
"Not just military technology, the two countries helped each other immensely during the ongoing pandemic. India supplied France with medicines during the initial phase and we have given equipment for ICUs. In short, I can say from the French side -- you can count on us," Parly said.
Speaking on the occasion, Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal R.K.S Bhadauria thanked the French Air Force for its support, and said that the 17 Squadron of ''Golden Arrows'', which has been equipped with the Rafale jet, has undergone extensive integrated training with the aircraft of other fleets.
"They are good to go and deliver. These modern aircraft, along with the skill-set of the pilots, will form a lethal combination," he said.
The newly-inducted jets were given a water cannon salute after the ''Sarv Dharma Puja'', which was attended by Parly, Singh, Bhadauria and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, among others.
The occasion also witnessed acrobatics by Rafale, Sukhoi and IAF choppers.
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