|Five Rafale fighters of the 36 ordered arrived at the Ambala airbase on July 29.(PTI)|
The Indian Air Force (IAF) will formally induct Rafale fighters at the Ambala air base on September 10 in presence of defence minister Rajnath Singh, officials familiar with the matter said on Friday. India has also invited Singh’s French counterpart, Florence Parly, to attend the ceremony, they added.
Five Rafale fighters of the 36 ordered arrived at the airbase on July 29, ending IAF’s wait for new fighter jets to sharpen its combat potential. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and other senior air force officers were present when the jets arrived, but a formal induction ceremony was reserved for another day.
The arrival of the jets coincided with the ongoing India-China border tensions in Ladakh.
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Shortly after they landed last month, the defence minister said the fighters would enhance the IAF’s capabilities and deter any threat to the country. He said those who want to threaten India’s territorial integrity should be worried about the new capability.
The Rafale fighters will significantly enhance IAF’s offensive capabilities and be a game changer with their advanced weaponry, high-tech sensors, superior radar for detection and tracking of targets and ability to carry an impressive payload, experts say.
They are part of the IAF’s 17 Squadron also known as the Golden Arrows. The aircrew that brought them to India was headed by Group Captain Harkirat Singh, a decorated fighter pilot, who is the commanding officer of the squadron.
The aircraft covered a distance of nearly 8,500 km from France to India. The first stage of the flight covered a distance of 5,800 km from Merignac to Al Dhafra (UAE). The second covered over 2,700 km from Al Dhafra to Ambala.
The new fighters are the first imported jets to be inducted into the IAF in 23 years after the Russian Sukhoi-30 jets entered service in June 1997.
The IAF ordered 36 Rafale jets from France as part of a government-to-government deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016. They have been specially tailored for IAF.
The Rafale weaponry includes Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, Mica multi-mission air-to-air missiles and Scalp deep-strike cruise missiles. The weapons allow fighter pilots to attack air and ground targets from standoff ranges and fill a significant capability gap.