New Delhi: The first batch of five Rafale fighter jets has landed at the Ambala airbase after covering a distance of nearly 7,000 km to join the Indian Air Force fleet. The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, will be part of the No. 17 Squadron of the Air Force, also known as the ”Golden Arrows’.
“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,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in a series of tweets.
The Touchdown of Rafale at Ambala. pic.twitter.com/e3OFQa1bZY
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) July 29, 2020
“Welcome home ‘Golden Arrows’. Blue skies always,” the Indian Air Force tweeted with a photo of the Rafales in “Arrow formation”, given a ceremonial welcome by SU-30s.
Rajnath Singh had earlier tweeted that the “birds” had entered the Indian airspace.
The Rafale contingent established contact with Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata in the Western Arabian Sea soon after taking off from the United Arab Emirates. “Welcome to the Indian Ocean… May you touch the sky with glory,” the Naval warship was heard telling a Rafale commander in an audio.
Chief of Air Staff RKS Bhadauria is at the Ambala air base to receive the Rafale jets, India’s first major acquisition of western 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.
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. The entire contingent is to be delivered by 2022.
The planes are expected to boost India’s air power massively amid tensions with China and Pakistan.
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.