Amidst a majestic welcome, the five Rafale fighter jets landed at Haryana’s Ambala air base for induction into the ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron of the Indian Air Force.

This is the first batch of 36 Rafale fighter jets for which India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in 2016 for Rs 58,000 crore.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh confirmed the safe landing of Rafale fighter jets.

“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala. The touch down of Rafale combat aircrafts in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionise the capabilities of the @IAF_MCC (sic),” he tweeted.

Singh also congratulated Indian Air Force for executing the complete exercise fairly.

 

Upon touchdown, the fighter aircraft were given the ceremonial ‘water salute’.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted in Sanskrit welcoming the Rafale fighter jets in India along with a video of the touchdown of the aircraft at Ambala.

Rafale would be a game changer in the current scenario when India is locked in multiple standoffs with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in its northern borders, while in the western borders, it is busy tackling the increasing cross-border firing and infiltration bids by Pakistan-based terror groups.

This will provide the IAF a much-needed muscle amid a depleting fighter strength.

The jets flew out from the Merignac air base in the French port city of Bordeaux and after covering a distance of nearly 7,000 km landed at Al Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates on Monday night.

The fleet comprised three single seater- and two twin seater- aircraft.

The final induction ceremony will take place in the second half of August 20.

Soon after taking off from the UAE, the Indian Rafale contingent established contact with Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata, deployed in the Western Arabian Sea.

“Welcome to the Indian Ocean… May you touch the sky with glory,” the Naval warship was heard telling the Rafale commander.

As the five fighter jets entered the Indian airspace, the Defence Minister’s office tweeted images of the aircraft being given a ceremonial welcome by two Su-30MKIs.

The Indian Air Force tweeted: “Welcome home ‘Golden Arrows’. Blue skies always.”

Now, efforts will focus on operationalisation of the aircraft at the earliest.

The Rafale fighter aircraft will be armed with beyond visual range missiles like Meteor, SCALP and MICA, increasing their ability to take on incoming targets from a distance.

A senior Indian Air Force officer said that Rafale fighter jets would be a major force multiplier. “There would always be a fear factor within the minds of the enemies,” said the officer, adding that even one Indian Rafale fighter can thwart the enemy’s plans.

He also explained that India will be supreme in the sky when the Rafale fighter aircraft come to the theatre.

Rafale is a 4.5 generation aircraft and has the latest weapons, superior sensors and fully integrated architecture.

Senior Indian Air Force officers state that China’s premier fighter jet Chengdu J-20A is no match to Rafale capabilities which has been seen in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.

China claims that its J-20 is a 5th generation fighter aircraft, however, it has a 3rd generation engine, said a senior IAF officer questioning stealth capabilities of the aircraft.

China is now going to buy Russian Su-35 to match Rafale.

The officer also said that Rafale is an omni-role aircraft which means it can carry out at least four missions in one sortie. However, China J-20 cannot carry out multiple missions in one go.

Further, the Rafale fighter jets will have HAMMER missiles.

The meteor missile in Rafale makes it far more potent than the J-20. The officer also explained that the Rafale engine is better in terms of reliability, longevity and maintainability.

The officer further pointed out that Rafale can lift loads up to 1.5 times its weight, which means it can carry weapons and fuel of far greater capacity than the J-20.

The ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron, which operated from the Bhatinda air base, was disbanded in 2016 after the Indian Air Force started gradual phasing out of Russian-origin MIG-21 jets. It was formed in 1951 and initially flew the Havilland Vampire F Mk 52 fighters.

The squadron has been resurrected and will be the first unit to fly the multi-role Rafale fighter jets.

The first Rafale fighter was handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in October 2019 in a ceremony attended by the French Minister for Armed Forces Madame Florence Parly and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Delivery of ten aircraft has been completed on schedule. Five will stay back in France for training mission. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021.

In accordance with the contract, the Indian Air Force pilots and support personnel have been provided full training on the aircraft and weapon systems by Dassault. Further batches of Indian Air Force personnel will continue the training over the next nine months.

India and France have a long history of cooperation in fighter aircraft, which includes India’s acquisition of French Toofanis in 1953, then the Mystere, Jaguar and Mirage.

(With agency inputs)