On Wednesday, India received a batch of five new Rafale fighter jets in the presence of Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria.
The jets took off from France on Monday and landed in the UAE for an overnight stopover before reaching India. These Rafale fighter jets are part of India’s deal with France, signed in 2016 to buy 36 warplanes. The remaining Rafale fighter aircrafts are expected to reach India by the next year.
The delivery of these jets raised eyebrows amid the ongoing border tensions with China. Informed sources believe that the arrival of the jets will boost the morale of the Indian Air force, which has been facing a shortage of fighter aircraft. It is noteworthy that this is the first imported fighter to be inducted into Service since the Sukhoi-30s from Russia in the late 90s.
Air Marshal (retd) Pranab Kumar Barbora, who oversaw the induction of the Jaguar aircraft fleet, said that the arrival of the Rafale was a welcome move because “it will significantly enhance the air force’s capability”.
Rafale fighter jets landed at the Ambala airbase on Wednesday afternoon in the presence of Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria.
Rajnath Singh, India’s Defence Minister in a series of tweets said: “The touchdown of Rafale combat aircraft in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircraft will revolutionalise the capabilities of the IAF”.
“I would like to add, if it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the IAF, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity,” he further added.
French fighter jets en route to India
The jets built by Dassault Aviation — and piloted by officers from the Indian Air Force (IAF) — took off from Merignac in southwest France, the company said in a statement.
They reached Ambala airbase in northern India on Wednesday, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Pakistani and Chinese borders.
They refuelled midair several times on the way and also made a stopover in Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, where France has an airbase.
They were accompanied by two A330 Phenix MRTT refuelling planes from the French Air Force, one of which is carrying 70 ventilators, 100,000 test kits and a team of 10 health experts to support India in its fight against COVID-19, according to the French defence ministry.
Delivery of the Rafale jets — 36 of which were ordered by India in September 2016 — officially began in October but the planes stayed in France for the training of the pilots and mechanics.
“I am strongly impressed by the amazing efficiency and determination of the Indian Air Force and Indian Ministry of Defence,” the chief executive of Dassault Aviation, Eric Trappier, said in a statement.
He said that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they had managed to “master rapidly all aspects of the Rafale for comforting Indian sovereignty and contributing to the protection and security of Indian people.”
India’s tense relations with neighbours
The planes were awaited with impatience by New Delhi, which is eager to update its ageing fighter jet force as tensions flare with both China and Pakistan.
Brutal hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh last month left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China has said it also suffered casualties but has not given figures.
“The Himalayan border problem between Pakistan, India, and China is not a new issue – it goes back at least 70 years,” Umit Alperen, a researcher and professor, said in an online discussion with Cemal Demir, head of the Istanbul-based South Asia Strategic Research Center (GASAM).
Earlier, India and China had agreed on border de-escalation as their foreign ministers spoke on the phone and agreed to abide by existing bilateral agreements to ensure peace and tranquillity on their disputed Himalayan border. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in border skirmishes with the Chinese military will “not be in vain,” and vowed a response if there is a further provocation.
Tensions are also running high with Islamabad after India scrapped the semi-autonomous status for the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and imposed a major security clampdown.
France-India ties strengthen and so does India’s air defence
Earlier the IAF said that once the planes arrive in India, “efforts will focus on operationalisation of the aircraft at the earliest.”
“Our air force pilots tell us that these are extremely swift, nimble, versatile and very deadly aircraft,” said India’s ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf at the occasion of Rafale jets takeoff for India.
“This is going to add a great deal of strength to our airpower and defence preparedness but it is also a powerful symbol of our strategic partnership between France and India,” he added.
India in May 2017 put forward an official request for information for the supply of 57 combat planes intended for the Indian navy and another in July 2018 for 110 jets intended for the Indian Air Force.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk