THE government hailed “a new era in our military history”, as five Rafale jets landed at the air base in Ambala on Wednesday afternoon, marking the first batch of multirole combat fighter aircraft acquired by the country in over two decades.
Considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, with a proven track record, the two trainer and three single-seat versions of the French fighter aircraft completed their 7,000 km journey from Merignac air base from France shortly after 3 pm. The five aircraft, with seven pilots, had taken off on Monday and had a day’s layover at the Al Dhafra air base in the UAE.
Welcoming the aircraft, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that there is no greater “punya (virtue)”, “vrat (vow)” or “tapasya (worship)” than protecting the nation. “Nabh Sparsham Deeptam (Touch The Sky With Glory),” he added, which is also the motto of the Indian Air Force.
“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in a post on Twitter. In what was seen as a veiled threat to China, Singh added, “If anyone should be worried about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity.”
The Rafale were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space and were given a water salute on landing. They were also greeted by INS Kolkata’s Destoyer class ship in the Arabian sea. “May you touch the sky with glory,” messaged the ship to the Rafale flight formation leader.
The five aircraft would be formally inducted into the Ambala-based No. 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’, next month.
A government statement on Monday said 10 Rafale jets had been delivered and that five of them were staying back in France for training missions. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021, it said. A second squadron of the Rafale jets is to be based in Hasimara in West Bengal.
The NDA government had inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal in September 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft for the IAF did not fructify during the UPA regime.
India’s last major acquisition of fighter planes was 23 years ago, when the Sukhois were imported from Russia. The IAF is down to 31 fighter squadrons against the authorised strength of at least 42.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted that the aircraft would be “a game changer” and were a sign of the Modi government’s resolve to make India a powerful country.
The Defence Minister in his tweets noted that Rafale has a very good performance record, with “its weapons, radar and other sensors and Electronic Warfare capabilities… amongst the best in the world”. Singh added, “The touchdown of Rafale combat aircraft marks the beginning of a new era in our military history. These multirole aircraft will revolutionise the capabilities of the IAF.”
He also referred to the political row that the 2016 off-the-shelf purchase of the Rafale through an intergovernmental agreement had created. “The Rafale jets were purchased when they fully met the operational requirements of the IAF.
The baseless allegations have already been answered and settled,” he said.
Singh added, “Rafale jets were purchased only because PM Shri @narendramodi took the right decision… after the long pending procurement case for them could not progress.”
On Wednesday, even as the Congress welcomed the Rafale, it questioned the “delay” and their “high cost”. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Congratulations to IAF for Rafale. Meanwhile, can Government of India (GOI) answer: Why each aircraft costs Rs 1670 Crores instead of Rs 526 Crores? Why 36 aircraft were bought instead of 126? Why was bankrupt Anil (Ambani’s firm) given a Rs 30,000 Crores contract instead of HAL.”
Strict security arrangements were made around the Ambala air base on Wednesday, with the district administration restricting photography of military assets under Section 144 of the CrPC and also restricting media entry. Police vehicles went around warning people over loudspeakers not to photograph the jets as they arrived.
Local BJP politicians put up posters welcoming the Rafale. Ambala City MLA Aseem Goyal organised a celebration where a group of military veterans danced. “I would like to urge the residents of Ambala to light up their homes and shops this evening to celebrate a Diwali of the Rafale coming to Ambala,” Goyal said.
The IAF has constructed additional facilities at the Ambala air base to station the Rafale, including hangars, aircraft bays etc. Air Force Station Ambala is one of India’s oldest, having been established in 1919. It is home to two Squadrons of Jaguar Deep Strike Aircraft and one Squadron of MiG-21 (BISON).
Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria and Air Officer Commanding in Chief Western Air Command Air Marshal B Suresh received the Rafale aircraft as they landed at Ambala. The crew that ferried the aircraft was led by the Commanding Officer of No. 17 Squadron, Group Captain Harkirat Singh.
with ENS, Delhi
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