By Sri Krishna
New Delhi: India’s aerial combat strength got a massive boost on July 29 as five French multi-role combat aircraft Rafales landed at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Ambala to be inducted into the IAF through a formal induction ceremony with the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria receiving the aircraft.
Nearly 23 years after Sukhoi aircraft were imported, a fleet of Rafale multi-role combat jets touched down giving the country’s air power a strategic edge over its adversaries in the neighbourhood.
The aircraft, having an undisputed track record and considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the strategic air base just about 200 km from the Indo-Pakistan border after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux.
These fighters were flown by IAF pilots for seven hours with the help of the mid-air refuellers. It had a brief stopover at Al Dhafra airbase in the United Arab Emirates. Though the distance between India and UAE is not big, the fighter jets had to maintain a certain speed to keep up with the refuellers.
Soon after taking off from the UAE, Indian Rafale contingent established contact with Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata, deployed in the Western Arabian Sea.
INS Kolkata Delta63: Arrow leader (flying #Rafale),welcome to Indian Ocean
Rafale leader: Many thanks. Most reassuring to have an Indian warship guarding seas
INS Kolkata: May you touch the sky with glory. Happy landings
Rafale leader: Wish you fair winds. Happy hunting. Over and Out
The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.
“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.
Singh said “the touchdown of Rafale combat aircraft in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionise the capabilities of the IAF.”
The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, will be inducted into the IAF as part of its No. 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’. However, a formal induction ceremony will be held around mid-August which is expected to be attended by the Defence Minister and top military brass of the country.
Meanwhile, authorities have imposed prohibitory orders near the Ambala Air Force Station, banning shooting of videos and photography.
The Ambala district administration has also prohibited people from flying private drones within the three-km radius of the air base, officials said earlier.
Section 144, which prohibits assembly of four or more people, has been imposed in the villages adjoining the air base, including Dhulkot, Baldev Nagar, Garnala and Panjkhora.
Meanwhile, the Haryana Police has set up several check barricades and police officers were seen patrolling residential localities near the air base, making announcements over loudspeakers warning people not to stand on the rooftop of their houses to click pictures or shoot videos. Violators would face punishment as per the law, they warned.
Hoardings have been erected in many places in Ambala to welcome the arrival of the fighter jets with some of these mentioning that their induction will further boost IAF’s capabilities.
Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said the people of Ambala are very enthusiastic about the arrival of the jets. This is a very proud and a historic moment for us that the Rafale jets will be stationed in Ambala Cantonment area. Rafales are IAF’s ‘Sikandar’, which will significantly boost our combat capabilities, he said.
He said had there not been the threat of Coronavirus pandemic, thousands would have gathered in the streets to welcome the jets.
Nearly four years ago, India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to purchase 36 Rafale jets under Rs 59,000-crore deal to boost the IAF’s combat capabilities.
The first Rafale jet was handed over to the IAF in October last year during a visit to France by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
While the first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed at Ambala airbase, the second one will be based at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
Currently, the base has two squadrons of the Jaguar combat aircraft and one squadron of the MiG-21 Bison.