New Delhi: The first five Rafale fighter jets would be inducted at the Air Force Station in Ambala on 29 July and their first mission could very well be in Ladakh where the Indian Air Force (IAF) is conducting Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to provide back up to the soldiers on ground engaged in a tense stand-off with China.
The IAF, in a statement, Monday said that after the arrival on 29 July, “efforts will focus on operationalisation of aircraft at the earliest”. A formal induction ceremony will be held in Ambala in the second half of August.
According to the contract signed in September 2016, 12 aircraft are supposed to be delivered every year.
French defence major Dassault Aviation, which is manufacturing the Rafale jets, had since October last year handed over to the IAF a total of nine aircraft. The 10th is undergoing acceptance trials by IAF pilots in France.
Four aircraft were to originally land in May, but got delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Once inducted, the Rafale with its cutting edge missiles will be the most modern and deadly fighter in this region.
“The target is to ensure that the Rafale is immediately operationalised. The IAF is already mission deployed in wake of the tensions at the Line of Actual Control. The aircraft is a big boost to the firepower capability and in a way a morale booster also,” a source in the defence establishment said.
The IAF said that its aircrew and the ground crew have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, including its highly advanced weapons systems and are fully operational now.
The weapons package
The main weapons package was supposed to arrive in October. However, following a request, France has diverted the missiles made for its own air force to India. These have started arriving already.
These missiles include the beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile, Meteor, which has the capability to hit targets over 120 km away, and the long range air-to-ground stand-off cruise missile, SCALP, which can strike targets 600 km away.
As reported by ThePrint on 29 June, the five Rafale jets will take off from Istres in France and fly to the French airbase in Al Dhafra near Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
After a night halt, the jets will fly to Ambala in Haryana, where the IAF’s 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ is based.
“The fighters will be flown by Indian pilots and will fly straight for 10 hours (Al Dhafra). It will have a halt for the night and next day fly to Ambala,” a source had said.
IAF pilots getting trained in re-fuelling in France
The initial plan was that the aircraft would arrive after layovers in multiple countries.
However, the coronavirus pandemic meant that the pilots would have to undergo quarantine at each base.
Hence, it was decided that two French mid-air re-fuellers will fly with the fighters. There would be at least two rounds of mid-air re-fuelling on the way to UAE.
Indian mid-air refuellers will take charge the next day for the journey to Ambala. Indian Air Force pilots are now getting trained in France for re-fuelling. This was not part of the original training.