Updated: February 27, 2017 8:38:39 am
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to shelve plans to base the under-procurement 36 Rafale fighters at Sarsawa, near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, because of problems of land acquisition near the airbase. The IAF has begun scouting for alternative airbases to house the two squadrons of its most modern fighter aircraft. “Yes, there is a problem with land acquisition at Sarsawa. We need some additional space which we are unable to get there. Other airbases are being considered by us,” a top military officer confirmed to The Indian Express.
Watch What Else Is Making News
Sources said the IAF needed an additional 540 acres of land in the vicinity of the air force station, which would have meant protracted negotiations with nearly 3,200 land owners. There is no possibility of using the land on the other side which is being used by the Special Frontier Force, a special force raised after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, for its own airborne training programme.
The process of negotiations with the landowners, sources said, will take time while the construction of infrastructure facilities has to start at the earliest since the first Rafale fighter is supposed to be in service in the IAF in September 2019. The full complement of 36 Rafale fighters will be in service by April 2022. The IAF currently has only 33 fighter squadron against an authorisation of 42, and two squadrons of Rafale are critical to managing the shortfall.
Subscriber Only Stories
Asked about the alternative sites for the Rafale base, the officer said: “No country places its top strategic assets close to the border. We are also looking at suitable options.” Sources said Suratgarh, Bihta and Ambala are currently being considered as alternative airbases for the French fighters. A frontline airbase in Rajasthan, Suratgarh is close to the Pakistan border, while Bihta airbase is near Patna in Bihar. Ambala in Haryana is a fighter base with adequate availability of land, which currently houses Jaguars and MiGs.
Under the Rs 59,000-crore deal signed by India with France last September, Dassault Aviation is contracted to construct infrastructure at the airbase for the 36 fighters. This makes it incumbent upon the IAF to finalise the airbase at the earliest. These French fighters are also likely to be used by the IAF as strategic delivery platforms for aerial delivery of nuclear weapons. That role is currently performed by French Mirage-2000 fighters, which will move out of service in another decade.
📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.