IAF’s first 5 Rafales take off from France, to reach Ambala on July 29
Amid border tensions with China in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Air Force’s first five Rafale warplanes on Monday took off from Mérignac in France and will reach their home base in Ambala on July 29 after a one-day stopover at the Al Dhafra airbase near Abu Dhabi, the IAF said in a statement.
The two-leg flight will involve the Rafales covering a distance of nearly 7,000 km. The five fighters landed safely at Al Dhafra after a seven-hour flight from France on Monday evening.
The new fighters will significantly enhance the IAF’s offensive capabilities, senior IAF officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth ₹59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to plug gaps in the IAF’s capabilities. The delivery of 36 fighters will be completed by the end of next year.
France handed over to India its first Rafale fighter during a ceremony attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart, Florence Parly, in Merignac on October 8 last year. Air and ground crews of the IAF have been in France for almost three years for the management of the Rafale programme.
The French air force refuelled the Indian fighters --- three single-seater and two twin-seater aircraft --- using its Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft on their way to Al Dhafra. Aerial refuelling support will be provided by the IAF’s Russian Ilyushin-78 refuellers for the second leg of the journey from Al Dhafra to Ambala.
The jets are being flown by pilots who have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, the IAF said. The Rafales will be a part of the IAF’s No. 17 Squadron, which is also known as the ‘Golden Arrows.’ The aircrew bringing the Rafales to India is headed by Group Captain Harkirat Singh, a decorated fighter pilot, who is the commanding officer of the No.17 squadron.
It’s a magnificent achievement to get a fighter of this class decades after the IAF inducted the Mirage-2000s from France in the mid-1980s, said Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major (retd), a former IAF chief.
“The Rafales bring tremendous capabilities to the table. We should now wait and watch how the fighter evolves in the Indian environment. I am sure it will meet each and every qualitative requirement of the IAF,” Major added.
India has taken a significant step in “strengthening its air power and defence preparedness” with the first five Rafale fighter jets, built by French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, flying out from the Merignac airbase in Bordeaux, the Indian embassy in France said in a statement.
“This also marks a new milestone in the strong and growing India-France defence cooperation,” it said.
India’s Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf was in Merignac to see off the aircrews bringing the Rafales to the country. He said that the “long-awaited and much-needed” two squadrons of Rafale jets would add “great strength” to the IAF and the country’s defence capabilities.
The IAF could deploy its new Rafale fighters in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, where Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense border confrontation and disengagement has turned out to be a challenging process.
“In accordance with the contract, IAF pilots and supporting personnel have been provided full training on the aircraft and weapon systems by Dassault. Further batches of IAF personnel will continue the training over the next nine months,” the embassy statement said.
“I am strongly impressed by the amazing efficiency and determination of the IAF and Indian Ministry of Defense, despite this unprecedented world health crisis, to master rapidly all aspects of the Rafale for Indian sovereignty and contributing to the protection and security of Indian people,” said Dassault Aviation chairman Eric Trappier.
The IAF’s air and ground crews have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, including its highly-advanced weapons systems and are fully operational. Efforts will now focus on swift operationalisation of the aircraft.
Acting on a special request by the IAF, France has accelerated the deliveries of Rafale fighters to India --- five jets are coming instead of four that were originally planned to be delivered in the first batch. According to the original delivery schedule, the first 18 jets (including the four in the first batch) were to be delivered to the IAF by February 2021, with the rest expected by April-May 2022. However, all deliveries will be completed by the end of 2021.