Nearly 23 years after Sukhoi aircraft were imported, a fleet of five French-manufactured Rafale multi-role combat jets touched down in India on Wednesday, giving the country’s air power a strategic edge over its adversaries in the neighbourhood.
The aircraft, having an undisputed track record and considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the Ambala Air Force base after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux.
The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.
“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.
Singh said that “the touchdown of Rafale combat aircrafts in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionise the capabilities of the IAF”.
The NDA government had inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal on September 23, 2016, to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime.
The emergency acquisition was made primarily to check the depleting combat capability of the IAF as the number of its fighter squadrons had come down to a worrying 31 against the authorised strength of at least 42.
The fleet, comprising three single-seater and two twin-seater aircraft, are being inducted into the IAF as part of its Ambala-based No 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’.
A government statement on Monday said 10 Rafale jets were delivered to India and that five of them are staying back in France for training missions. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021, it added.
The Rafale jets, known for air-superiority and precision strikes, are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 year after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.