Ambala: The operational induction of Rafale into the Indian Air Force (IAF) is an “important step” in the wake of the border tensions, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Thursday in a reference to the ongoing crisis at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
Singh called it a strong message for the world, especially for those who challenge India’s sovereignty.
On Thursday, the French-made Rafale jets were inducted into IAF’s Squadron No. 17, also known as Golden Arrows, in Ambala, which is home to the first squadron of Rafale fighter jets.
“The induction is a very important step in light of the prevailing security conditions that prevail, or I would say, that have been created along India’s borders,” Singh said in an address to IAF personnel at the Ambala Air Station.
French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria also attended the induction ceremony.
Singh said the IAF plays an important role in maintaining military deterrence and their actions will be decisive in any future war. “While the prevailing situation on our boundaries has caught our attention, we should not ignore the threat of cross-border terrorism,” he added.
IAF chief Bhadauria said the Rafale aircraft can rapidly access all areas of interest due to its deployment.
“What we see is a result of decisive action by the government to break the impasse over the MMRCA deal. Today, the Rafale has been operationally inducted. We are good to go,” he added.
Singh congratulated IAF personnel for the swift and decisive action taken by them near the LAC recently. He said the rapid deployment of IAF assets at forward bases created a trust that our Air Force is fully prepared to meet its operational obligations.
The defence minister reiterated the resolve of not compromising India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under any circumstances, and the country’s determination to make all possible preparations for it.
“The intentions of military are as strong as it can be,” he said.
Singh said strengthening India’s defence is aimed at achieving international peace and stability, adding it does not want to take any step that can endanger international peace.
“We have the same expectation of our neighbours and other countries of the world.”
Rafale has flown in Leh, completed bombing practice
IAF sources told ThePrint the Rafale has completed bombing practice in various test fire ranges across the country and also carried out high-altitude flying in Leh since landing in India on 29 July after a 8,500-km journey from Merignac in France.
“The aircraft has been operationally inducted. The Rafale has test fired the MICA and carried out flying with other fighters in the inventory. The Rafale has also flown in Leh as part of the high altitude flying,” a source said.
On Thursday, the Rafale was given a water cannon welcome as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart stood watching.
The defence minister described the Rafale as a “game changer”, which is armed with the Meteor air-to-air missiles besides the long range air-to-surface Scalp missile and the Hammer.
At the ceremony, the fighter carried out aerobatics to show off its flying capabilities. There was also a multi-faith prayer that was conducted for the aircraft that was procured under a Rs 59,000 crore government to government deal in 2016.
Another set of four Rafale fighters jets are expected to land in the country by the end of October.
The mean machine
This is the first foreign induction by the IAF in 23 years into its inventory of seven types of fighters.
Known as a 4.5 generation aircraft, the Rafale is considered to be one of the finest fighters in the world and is described as an ‘omnirole’ aircraft. This means the Rafale can take up several missions on a single flight.
With its avionics, radars and weapon systems, the Rafale is the most potent aircraft in the South Asian region, much ahead of the F-16s that Pakistan uses or even the JF-20, the 5th generation Chinese ‘stealth’ aircraft, which is yet to see combat.
Rafale are combat-proven having flown multiple missions in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Making the IAF Rafale more potent than the others of the same make is the fact that the 36 aircraft to be inducted into the IAF will also have 13 Indian specific enhancements. These will be integrated once the full delivery is done by 2022.
The enhancements include Israeli helmet-mounted display, ability to start in very cold and high altitude areas like Leh, among others.
With the MBDA-made Meteor missile, the jet would be able to shoot down an enemy aircraft, even if over 100 km away, without even crossing the Indian air space. This is the highest range of an air-to-air missile in the region.
The 1,300 kg, 5.1 metre-long Scalp can be carried in either one-missile or two-missiles configuration on the Rafale and has a range of 600 km. The IAF has also opted for the French HAMMER air-to-ground precision-guided weapon system under emergency procurement.
With a range of 3,700 km without mid-air refuelling, Rafale comes with a 10-tonne empty weight. It is fitted with 14 hard points and five of these are capable of drop tanks and heavy ordnance.
The total external load capacity is 9.5 tonnes, which means the Rafale can lift the equivalent of its own empty weight in payloads, which makes it very efficient. With a maximum speed of nearly twice the speed of sound, the landing ground run is 450 metres without drag-chute.
The twin-seater trainer version of the Rafale came with initials ‘RB’ on its tail, standing for the initials of Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria, the IAF chief. It was a tribute to Bhadauria for working out the Rafale deal as the force’s deputy chief earlier.