New Delhi: The first set of two Mirage 2000 combat jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) have flown out for upgrade at the facilities of Thales, the French defence and aerospace giant, as part of a $1.35 billion deal for the 51-aircraft fleet.
'Two aircraft -- a single seater and a double-seater -- have flown out to the French Air Base near Istres. The aircraft will reach Monday-Tuesday after halts in two countries in the Gulf and two in Europe,' Thales country director Eric Lenseigne said.
'The upgrade will begin immediately after. A 22-member project team from the Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will be associated with the project. This is what we call a middle-life upgrade. It will take a few years,' Lenseigne said.
According to sources, the pilots and some team members could not have asked for a better flight path, and destination. Their landings were slotted for Qatar, Egypt, Turkey and Greece, before arriving at Istres in French Riviera, northwest of Marseille.
Lenseigne explained that during the upgrade of the two aircraft in Istres, a small team of Thales experts would also visit Bangalore for the upgrade of another two Mirage 2000 jets at the facility of Hindustan Aeronautics.
'The dates have not been fixed yet. It could be anytime towards the first half of 2013. Both at Istres and Bangalore, there will also be a simultaneous transfer of technology, so that the remaining upgrades can be done by the Indian side,' he said.
India had announced a contract in end-July with two French defence firms -- Thales and Dassault -- for upgrading its fleet of 51 Mirage 2000 combat jets, which were acquired between 1982 and 1986. The details regarding the size of the deal were not spelt out.
But ministry officials had said it would work out to around $4 billion, if one were also to consider other investments, like $500 million towards a new facility at Bangalore for Hindustan Aeronautics and $1 billion for new weapons and related additions.
At Istres, the aircraft will see an upgrade of its avionics, combat systems, electronics for military capability, night vision cockpit, advanced navigational systems, friend-or-foe identification system, radars and the warfare suites.
According to Lenseigne, Thales is also working on the projects it will undertake as part of the offsets for Mirage 2000 upgrade. India, like many countries, asks defence vendors to spend some the project money locally to source components or as investment.
'We have in mind some 15 major proposals covering army, navy and air force. These are in broad areas like air defence, new generation equipment for combat aircraft like sensors, and maritime radars. Our partners are under selection,' he added.
A $16.5 billion giant in the defence, security, aerospace and transport markets, Thales has 68,000 employees in 50 countries. In India, it started operations over five decades ago and also has joint ventures with Rolta and Samtel, and a global software arm in Chennai.