New Delhi : Five Rafale fighter jets were formally inducted into the Indian Air Force on Thursday at a glittering ceremony in the Ambala air base, in a major boost to India’s air power capability at a time the country is engaged in a tense border row with China in eastern Ladakh.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, his French counterpart Florence Parly, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria were among the dignitaries who attended the ceremony.
A traditional ‘sarva dharma puja’, a ceremonial ‘water cannon salute’ to the Rafale jets and an aerial display featuring various breathtaking manoeuvres by the aircraft marked their induction into the 17 Squadron of the IAF.
In a tweet, the IAF welcomed the “new bird” into its arsenal.
The multi-role Rafale jets, built by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, are known for air-superiority and precision strikes.
A fleet of indigenously-developed combat jet Tejas and Sarang helicopter aerobatic team of the IAF too displayed a range of aerial manoeuvres demonstrating their agility at the ceremony which was attended by India’s top military brass and executives of several French defence firms involved in the Rafale programme.
The first batch of five Rafale jets arrived in India on July 29, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.
Ten Rafale jets have been delivered to India so far and five of them stayed back in France for imparting training to IAF pilots.
The delivery of all 36 aircraft is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.
A second batch of four to five Rafale jets are likely to arrive in India by November.
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.
The Rafale jets are capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets.
Meteor is a next generation beyond visual range air-to-air missile designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
Out of 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.
While the first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed at Ambala air base, the second one will be based at the Hasimara base in West Bengal. The 17 Squadron of the IAF was resurrected on September 10 last year.
The squadron was originally raised at Air Force Station, Ambala on Oct 1 1951. The 17 Squadron has many firsts to its credit; in 1955 it was equipped with the first jet fighter, the legendary De Havilland Vampire.