Five French-made multirole Rafale fighter jets were inducted into the Indian Air Force on Thursday in a glittering ceremony at the Ambala air force base, in a major boost to India”s air power capability at a time the country is engaged in an escalating border dispute with China in eastern Ladakh.
Using the occasion to send a strong message to China over the border row, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said induction of the jets was crucial considering the atmosphere being created along the frontier and that it is a “big and stern” message to those eyeing India”s sovereignty.
Besides Singh, the nearly two-hour ceremony was attended by French Defence Minister Florence Parly, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and several top executives of major French defence firms involved in the Rafale deal.
A traditional ”sarva dharma puja”, a ceremonial ”water cannon salute” to the Rafale jets and an aerial drill featuring various breathtaking manoeuvres by the aircraft marked their induction into the IAF”s ”Golden Arrows” squadron at the Ambala Air Force station.
“The induction of Rafale jets is a big and stern message for the entire world, especially to those eyeing our sovereignty. This kind of induction is very important for the kind of atmosphere that has been created on our borders,” Singh said.
“We understand very well that with changing times, we also have to prepare ourselves. I feel proud to say that our national security has been a big priority of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Singh said.
Speaking on the occasion, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said induction of Rafale jets could not have happened at a more opportune time considering the security scenario.
In her brief address, Parly said France is fully committed to integrate the Indian defence industry with France”s global military supply chain, while calling the induction of the Rafale jets into the IAF a new chapter in bilateral defence ties.
At the ceremony, a fleet of indigenously-developed combat jets Tejas, and Sarang helicopter aerobatic team too displayed a range of aerial manoeuvres.
In a tweet, the IAF welcomed the “new bird” into its arsenal.
The multirole Rafale jets, built by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, are known for air-superiority and precision strikes.
The first batch of five Rafale 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.
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.
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 the Hasimara base in West Bengal.
The 17 Squadron of the IAF 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.