New Delhi: Amid India’s ongoing border standoff with China, at least four Rafale fighter jets are now scheduled to land in Ambala on 27 July, and will be ready for combat earlier than expected as the French have diverted an initial lot of cutting edge missiles meant for its own air force to India, ThePrint has learnt.
“The date worked out between India and France is July 27 for the delivery of the aircraft. Four aircraft will come for sure while an attempt is being made to ensure that a total of six jets come,” said a source.
According to sources, the jets can be deployed for combat quicker than anticipated as France has diverted some of the game-changing missiles — Meteor and SCALP — meant for its own air force to the Rafale jets for India. Originally, this was supposed to happen months after the delivery of the fighter jets.
ThePrint had first reported on 20 March that the delivery of the Rafale fighter jets could get delayed from its original May date due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On 14 April, ThePrint reported that the delivery will take place only in July.
Will fly via UAE, with two mid-air refuellers
According to the plan, the 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 Indian Air Force (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,” another source told ThePrint.
The initial plan was that the aircraft would arrive after layovers in multiple countries. However, the Covid pandemic meant that the pilots would have to undergo quarantine at each base, said the sources.
It has now been decided that two French Airbus mid-air refuellers will fly with the jets. There would be at least two rounds of mid-air refuelling on the way to UAE, the sources said.
Indian mid-air refuellers will take charge the next day for the journey to Ambala. Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots are now getting trained in France for refuelling. This was not part of the original training, said the sources.
France diverts missiles to IAF
The contract India and France signed in September 2016 had said the Rafale delivery would take place in May 2020, and the main weapons package would arrive in October, said the sources.
However, following a request, France has diverted the missiles made for its 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.
“This means that the Rafale could be combat-ready much earlier than expected. The Meteor and SCALP have already been integrated with the Rafales which are coming in,” another source said.
The integration of Meteor into the Rafale weapons system means an Indian Rafale would be able to shoot down an enemy aircraft over 100 km away without even crossing the Indian air space.
The 5.1-metre-long SCALP can be carried in either one missile or two missiles configuration on the Rafale. Its inclusion means Indian Rafales would not have to cross the Indian airspace to hit a target that is about 600 km in enemy territory.