First five Rafale fighter jets land at Ambala airbase
30 July 2020
The first batch of five Rafale fighter jets touched down at the Ambala airbase in Haryana at about 3.10 pm to a rousing welcome by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the country’s defence forces.
The Indian Navy warship, INS Kolkata, deployed in the western Arabian Sea was the first to greet the fighter jets as they entered the Indian airspace at about 1.30 pm.
“May you touch the sky with glory,” Captain of INS Kolkata welcomed Rafale Arrow Leader as the five Rafale aircraft escorted by two SU30 MKIs entered Indian airspace.
The five Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Rafale fighter jets will be officially inducted into the Golden Arrows No 17 squadron of the IAF. The aircraft, however, would still need time for full deployment as a squadron would need at least 18 planes to be operational.
The Rafales, which took off from France's Merignac airbase on Monday, had a technical halt at Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE, from where the aircraft were flown to India.
Section 144 has been imposed in Haryana's Ambala ahead of the arrival of the much-awaited jets, even as Jodhpur has been kept on standby in case weather conditions in Ambala worsen.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh in a series of tweets welcomed the Rafales saying, “The Birds have entered the Indian airspace… Happy Landing in Ambala!”
Singh congratulated Indian Air Force on professionally executed ferry and said, “I am sure that 17 Squadron, the Golden Arrows, will continue to live up to their motto of ‘UdayamAjasram’. I am extremely happy that IAF’s combat capability has got a timely boost.”
“The touchdown of Rafale combat aircraft in India marks the beginning of a new era in our military history. These multirole aircraft will revolutionise the capabilities of the IAF,” he added in another tweet.
Highlighting the capabilities of the aircraft, Rajnath Singh remarked that, “This aircraft has very good flying performance and its weapons, radar and other sensors and electronic warfare capabilities are amongst the best in the world. Its arrival in India will make the IAF much stronger to deter any threat to our country.
The defence minister thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his right decision. “The Rafale jets were purchased only because PM Narendra Modi took the right decision to get these aircraft through an Inter-Governmental Agreement with France, after the long pending procurement case for them could not progress.”
He thanked the French government, Dassault Aviation and other French companies for ensuring the timely delivery of the aircraft and its weapons, despite the severe restrictions posed by COVID pandemic.
“The Rafale jets were purchased when they fully met the operational requirements of the IAF. The baseless allegations against this procurement have already been answered and settled,” he said, adding, “If it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity.”
The Rafale fighter jets can carry out long-range missions
India's air force has received five new Rafale fighter jets amid ongoing border tensions with China.
The aircraft are part of India's deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 warplanes. New Delhi is hoping to modernise its dwindling Soviet-era air force fleet with the induction of Rafale multi-role jets.
Delivery of the remaining Rafale aircraft is expected to be completed by next year.
The Rafale is a multi-role aircraft, capable of carrying out long-range missions, including highly accurate sea and ground attacks.
More importantly, the arrival of the jets will boost the morale of the Air Force, which has been facing a shortage of fighter aircraft.
India needs 42 squadrons in the scenario of a two-front war with China and Pakistan. But its squadron strength has been depleted to 31, largely because of ageing Russian aircraft.
The proposal to purchase new fighter jets has been hanging fire since the Congress party-led UPA government issued tenders in 2008 to buy 126 jets.
Dassault was finalised as a supplier in 2012, and the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was selected as partner to produce 108 jets in India.
The deal was put on hold as the BJP's Narendra Modi become PM in 2014. But, during his visit to France, Modi announced India's decision to buy 36 fighter jets in "fly-away" condition rather than go for 126 aircraft.
The government says it decided to buy the 36 jets in "fly-away" condition to quickly address the problem of the air force's depleting strength.
It is not clear whether India will procure the remaining aircraft it needs in the long run. The Air Force announced in 2018 that it would be seeking bids for around 110 more fighter jets, but a deal is yet to be finalised.