India received its first batch of new multirole combat fighter aircraft in nearly two decades with the arrival of five Rafale jets, giving the country’s air power a strategic edge in the midst of a bitter border row with China in eastern Ladakh.
The aircraft, having an undisputed track record and considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the Ambala Air Force base at around 3:10 PM after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux.
“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted, adding if anyone should be worried about the Indian Air Force’s new capability, it should be those who want to threaten “our territorial integrity”. The comment is seen as a veiled message to China.
The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space and were given a water salute when they landed here.
Singh said that “the touch down of Rafale combat aircrafts in India marks the beginning of a new era in our military history. These multirole aircraft will revolutionise the capabilities of the IAF”.
The emergency acquisition was made primarily to check the depleting combat capability of the IAF as the number of its fighter squadrons had come down to a worrying 31 against the authorised strength of at least 42.
The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, are being inducted into the IAF as part of its Ambala-based No 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’.
A government statement said 10 Rafale jets were delivered to India and that five of them are staying back in France for training missions. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021, it added.
Though the jets are being inducted into the IAF, there will be a formal ceremony in mid-August to welcome them into the force. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and top military brass of the country are expected to attend the event.
The fleet landed at Al Dhafra air base on Monday in the UAE after flying for over seven hours from the Merignac airbase. It was the only stopover by the jets while flying from France to India.
Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets. India began the process to buy a fleet of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) in 2007 after the defence ministry, headed then by AK Antony, cleared the proposal from the IAF.
The contenders for the mega deal were Lockheed Martin’s F-16s, Eurofighter Typhoon, Russia’s MiG-35, Sweden’s Gripen, Boeing’s F/A-18s and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale.
PM welcomed the first batch of Rafale jets with tweets: He wrote:
There is no virtue like protecting the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday as he welcomed the first batch of five Rafale jets which landed in Ambala with a tweet in Sanskrit.
“Swagatam” (welcome), he said with the hashtag “RafaleInIndia”.