New Delhi: Five French-made multirole Rafales were inducted on Thursday into the Indian Air Force’s “Golden Arrows” Squadron at the Ambala Air Force Station, the country’s oldest Air Force base built in 1919. A Rafale fighter jet flew above the airbase as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart Florence Parly watched it from afar. Along with the Rafale, other fighter jets including the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKIs participated in the flypast. The first batch of five Rafales is being inducted at a time when India is engaged in an escalating border row with China in eastern Ladakh. “New bird in the arsenal of IAF,” the Air Force tweeted this morning.
“Today, this induction sends a strong message to those who have raised an eye at us. This induction is very crucial, considering the border situation,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said at the ceremonial unveiling of the Rafale aircraft that saw a traditional sarva dharma puja, air display by Rafale and Tejas aircraft as well as by the Sarang aerobatic team.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, his French counterpart Florence Parly, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar attended the ceremony.
A traditional water cannon salute was given to the Rafale fleet before its ceremonial induction into the 17 Squadron. The Rafale jets, built by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, are known for air-superiority and precision strikes on ground targets, making them truly multirole jets.
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 buy 36 jets for Rs.59,000 crore.
The French delegation at the ceremony included French envoy Emmanuel Lenain, Air General 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, the French Defence Minister and Rajnath Singh will hold talks in Ambala on ways to further deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation. 10 Rafale jets have been delivered to India so far and five of them stayed back in France for training IAF pilots. The delivery of all 36 aircraft is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.
A second batch of four-five Rafale jets is likely to arrive in India by November.
The Rafales are capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets. MBDA developed the Meteor to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighters 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 will be based at Hasimara in West Bengal.
The 17 Squadron of the IAF was resurrected in September last year. It was raised at Air Force Station, Ambala on in October 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.