The first five of a batch of French Rafale fighter jets will land this afternoon at Ambala de Haryana after having traveled nearly 7,000 km to join the Indian Air Force fleet.
Chief of the Air Staff RKS Bhadauria will be at the key strategic air base in Ambala to receive Rafale aircraft, India’s first major acquisition of fighter jets in more than two decades. An agreement of Rs 59,000 crore was signed on September 23, 2016 for 36 Rafale aircraft from the French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
Security was tightened near the air base, located about 200 km from the border with Pakistan, and large gatherings were banned in four neighboring villages. There are also restrictions on who congregates on rooftops and any filming or photography while landing. A local MP urged people to light candles tonight to welcome the jets.
The jets, piloted by IAF officers, took off from Mérignac in southwestern France and refueled in flight en route. Spectacular visuals posted by the Air Force yesterday showed the planes being refueled by a French tanker at a height of 30,000 feet.
The jets called at Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, where France has an air base.
They are accompanied by two A330 Phoenix MRTT refueling planes from the French Air Force, one of which carries 70 ventilators, 100,000 test kits and a team of 10 health experts to help in the fight against the coronavirus.
Delivery officially began in October last year when the first Rafale aircraft was handed over to the IAF during a visit to France by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. The planes remained in France for the training of pilots and mechanics.
All jets are due for delivery by 2022.
The planes are expected to massively increase India’s air power amid tensions with China and Pakistan.
“Our air force pilots tell us that they are extremely fast, agile, versatile and very deadly planes,” said Indian Ambassador to France Jawed Achraf, according to the AFP news agency. .
“This will add a lot of strength to our air power and defense preparation, but it is also a powerful symbol of our strategic partnership between France and India,” he added.
The fleet, made up of three single-seaters and two two-seater planes, will be inducted into the IAF as part of its No.17 Squadron, also known as the “ Golden Arrows, ” and will be stationed at Air Force Base Ambala, which has been upgraded for this purpose.
Ambala Air Base has two squadrons of Jaguar fighter jets and one squadron of MIG-21 Bison. The Mirage fighters which were used for India’s airstrike at Balakot in Pakistan last year after the Pulwama terrorist attack took off from there.