New Delhi: While the training of Indian Air Force pilots and maintenance crew for the Rafale aircraft in France came to an end Wednesday, the second squadron of the fighter will be operationalised earlier than planned.
The second squadron of the fighter jet, named 101 Squadron, will be based in West Bengal’s Hasimara and will take care of the crucial borders with China in the East. The Hasimara air base is also known as the Wing 16 or the ‘Lethal 16’.
The 101 Squadron, also known as the ‘Falcons of the Chhamb and Akhnoor’, was originally planned to be made operational in June but the IAF is now working to ensure it is done earlier.
Incidentally, four more Rafale aircraft have also taken off from France Wednesday and will reach India Thursday, taking the total number of the French fighters to 18 in the country.
The four fighters, which were flagged off by Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, are expected to land at Jamnagar in Gujarat before flying on to the Ambala Air Force Station, which is home to the first squadron of the Rafale, Golden Arrows.
While flagging the aircraft, the Air Force chief, who is on a five-day visit to France, thanked the French government and the industry for ensuring timely delivery of the fighter aircraft, and in some cases earlier than contract despite Covid.
“This marks the end of the training of the third batch pilots and all our maintenance crew. The Rafale training centre has provided world class training and because of this training and quality of training, we were able to operationalise the aircraft fully,” he said.
IAF works towards operationalising second base
With the end of training and new fighters on route, all eyes are now on the second airbase in Hasimara, which is under construction and is expected to be completed next month.
While the IAF had last month said the base would be operationalised by the middle of April, the second wave of the Covid pandemic and heavy rains delayed remaining infrastructure activities.
According to sources in the defence establishment, another batch of the Rafale aircraft will be ferried in the next two weeks, which will become part of the Hasimara air base.
They added that the Commanding Officer of the second squadron will be Group Captain Neeraj Jhamb.
As part of the preparations, the Hasimara air base has been undergoing a number of construction activities including lengthening of the runway.
The 101 Squadron last flew the Soviet-era MiG 21 type 96 aircraft.
The squadron got its name ‘Falcons of Chhamb and Akhnoor’ for its operation in the 1965 India-Pakistan War when they stalled a full-fledged attack by Pakistani armoured columns.
This report has been updated to accurately reflect that a total of 18 Rafale fighters have been delivered to India and the 101 Squadron last flew the MiG 21 type 96 aircraft. The error is regretted.