The two-stage flight will involve the Rafales over a distance of nearly 7,000 km. The five fighters landed safely in Al Dhafra after a seven-hour flight from France on Monday evening.
The new fighters will significantly improve the offensive capabilities of the IAF, senior IAF officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to fill gaps in IAF capacity. The delivery of 36 fighters will be completed by the end of next year.
Also read: IAF could deploy Rafale fighters in Ladakh sector amid border disputes
France handed over its first Rafale fighter to India during a ceremony attended by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart Florence Parly, in Mérignac on October 8. The air and ground crew of the IAF have been in France for nearly three years for the management of the Rafale program.
The French Air Force refueled the Indian fighters – three single-seaters and two two-seaters – using its Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport aircraft (MRTT) en route to Al Dhafra. In-flight refueling will be provided by Russian Ilyushin-78 IAF tankers for the second leg of the journey from Al Dhafra to Ambala.
The jets are flown by pilots who have undergone extensive training on the aircraft, the IAF said. The Rafales will be part of the No. 17 IAF Squadron, also known as the “Golden Arrows”. The crew bringing the Rafales to India is led by Group Captain Harkirat Singh, a decorated fighter pilot, who is the commander of No. 17 Squadron.
It’s a magnificent feat to have a fighter of this class decades after the IAF inducted the Mirage-2000s in France in the mid-1980s, said Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major (retd ), a former head of the IAF.
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“The Rafales bring enormous capabilities to the table. Now we have to wait and watch how the fighter evolves in the Indian environment. I’m sure it will meet all the quality requirements of the IAF, ”added Major.
India has taken an important step in “strengthening its air power and its defense preparation” with the first five Rafale fighter jets, built by the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, taking off from the Mérignac air base in Bordeaux, said the Indian Embassy in France in a statement. .
“It also marks a new stage in the strong and growing defense cooperation between India and France,” he said.
India’s ambassador to France, Jawed Ashraf, was in Mérignac to see the crews bringing the Rafale into the country. He said the “two long-awaited and indispensable Rafale squadrons” would add “great strength” to the IAF and the country’s defense capabilities.
The IAF could deploy its new Rafale fighters in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s comprehensive plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, where Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense confrontation at the borders and the disengagement turned out to be a difficult process.
“In accordance with the contract, IAF pilots and support personnel received comprehensive training on aircraft and weapon systems by Dassault. Other batches of IAF personnel will continue training over the next nine months, ”the embassy statement said.
“I am deeply impressed by the incredible efficiency and determination of the IAF and the Indian Ministry of Defense, despite this unprecedented global health crisis, to quickly bring all aspects of the Rafale to Indian sovereignty under control and to contribute to the protection and safety of the Indian people, ”said Eric Trappier, President of Dassault Aviation.
The IAF air and ground crew have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, including its highly advanced weapon systems, and are fully operational. Efforts will now focus on rapid operationalization of the aircraft.
Following a special request from the IAF, France has stepped up deliveries of Rafale fighter jets to India – five jets are arriving instead of the four that were originally due to be delivered in the first batch. According to the initial delivery schedule, the first 18 jets (including the four from the first batch) were to be delivered to the IAF by February 2021, with the remainder expected in April-May 2022. However, all deliveries will be completed before the end of 2021.