The first batch of five Rafale fighter jets will be formally inducted into the Indian Air Force on Thursday at the Ambala air base at a time India is engaged in an escalating border row with China in eastern Ladakh. A galaxy of dignitaries, including Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, his French counterpart Florence Parly, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, will attend the ceremony.
“At 10am tomorrow, Rafale aircraft will be formally inducted into the IAF at the Air Force Station in Ambala,” the defence minister said in a tweet. “The aircraft will be part of 17 Squadron, the ‘Golden Arrows’. The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in more than two decades.”
“The programme will include ceremonial unveiling of the Rafale aircraft, a traditional ‘Sarva Dharma Puja’, air display by Rafale and Tejas aircraft as well as by ‘Sarang aerobatic team’,” an IAF spokesperson said, describing the ceremony as a “very important milestone” in the history of the force.
The Rafale jets, produced by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, are known for air-superiority and precision strikes. IAF Spokesperson Wing Commander Indranil Nandi said a traditional water cannon salute will be given to the fleet before its ceremonial induction into the 17 squadron of the force.
The first batch of the five jets arrived in India on July 29, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore. The French delegation at the ceremony will include French envoy Emmanuel Lenain, Air Gen Eric Autellet, Vice Chief of French Air Force, Chairman and Chief Executive of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier and CEO of missile maker MBDA Eric Beranger.
After the ceremony, Parly and Singh will hold talks in Ambala on ways to further deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation after the ceremony, they said. Ten Rafale jets have been delivered to India so far and five of them stayed back in France for imparting training to IAF pilots. The delivery of all 36 aircraft is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. A second batch of four to five Rafale jets are likely to arrive in India by November. Sources said a preliminary discussion on a possible procurement of another batch of 36 Rafale jets by India from France may figure in the talks between Singh and Parly.
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia. The Rafale jets are capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets. Meteor is a next generation beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets. While the first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed at Ambala air base, the second one will be based at Hasimara base in West Bengal. The 17 Squadron of the IAF which was resurrected on September 10 last year. The squadron was originally raised at Air Force Station, Ambala on Oct 1 1951. The 17 Squadron has many firsts to its credit; in 1955 it was equipped with the first jet fighter, the legendary De Havilland Vampire.