The first five of a batch of French Rafale fighter jets will touch down at Haryana’s Ambala this afternoon after covering a distance of nearly 7,000 km to join the Indian Air Force fleet.
Chief of Air Staff RKS Bhadauria will be at the strategically key Ambala air base to receive the Rafale jets, India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in over two decades. A Rs 59,000-crore deal was signed on September 23, 2016 for 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation.
Security has been tightened near the airbase, located around 200 km from the border with Pakistan, and large gatherings have been banned in four villages nearby. There are also restrictions on people gathering on rooftops and any filming or photography during the landing. A local MLA has urged people to light candles this evening to welcome the jets.
The jets, piloted by IAF officers, took off from Merignac in southwest France and refueled midair on the way. Spectacular visuals posted by the Air Force yesterday showed the jets refueling from a French tanker at a height of 30,000 feet.
The jets made a stopover in Al Dhafra in the UAE, where France has an air base.
They are accompanied by two A330 Phoenix MRTT refueling planes from the French Air Force, one of which is carrying 70 ventilators, 100,000 test kits and a team of 10 health experts to aid in the fight against coronavirus.
Delivery officially started in October last year when the first Rafale jet was handed over to the IAF during a visit to France by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The planes stayed in France for training of the pilots and mechanics.
All the jets are to be delivered by 2022.
The planes are expected to boost India’s air power massively amid tensions with China and Pakistan.
“Our air force pilots tell us that these are extremely swift, nimble, versatile and very deadly aircraft,” said India’s ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf, according to news agency AFP.
“This is going to add a great deal of strength to our airpower and defence preparedness but it is also a powerful symbol of our strategic partnership between France and India,” he added.
The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, will be inducted into the IAF as part of its No. 17 Squadron, also known as the ”Golden Arrows”, and will be stationed at the Ambala air base, which has been upgraded for the purpose.
The Ambala air base has two squadrons of the Jaguar combat aircraft and one squadron of the MIG-21 Bison. The Mirage fighters that were used for India’s air strike in Balakot in Pakistan last year after the Pulwama terror attack took off from there.