New Delhi/Saint-Cloud (France): As we write this, India‘s air force pilots are flying the five Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation‘s Mérignac facility to the Ambala air base, covering around 7,000 km with a stop over at the United Arab Emirates.
The first five Rafale combat aircraft in Indian colours took off from France and these include three single-seater and two twin-seater aircraft. Twin-seaters are trainer aircraft, which will be used by the Indian combat pilots to try their hands on the lean, mean flying machines.
The fully-armed Rafale are likely to be fully inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) by the end of August, when they would go full-ops, which means they are entirely ready to be deployed in any conflict situation along India’s western and northern borders, particularly the one with China in Ladakh.
The ferry of the aircraft is planned in two stages and will be done by the pilots of the IAF, who have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft. The air-to-air refuelling planned during the first leg of the ferry will be done by these pilots with dedicated tanker support from the French Air Force.
India is raising the No. 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ Squadron at Ambala air base to equip it with the Rafale aircraft, according to a statement from the IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Indranil Nandi. The aircraft are likely to arrive at the Air Force Station in Ambala on July 29, subject to weather, Nandi said.
The five Rafale will first do a dash for the French airbase in Al Dhafra near Abu Dhabi in the UAE for a night halt in the first leg of 10-hour flying with two midair refuelling missions. Though the combat jets can do this distance in a shorter time, they will slow down to keep within refuelling distance of the two French air force tankers that are accompanying the fighters, according to The Print report.
The night halt at the Al Dhafra air base would provide the pilots much needed rest before they take up the second leg of the flight to Ambala. India has kept the Jamnagar air base ready to facilitate landing of the five jets in case of a weather emergency, which means that the five jets would enter India via Gujarat, and would not cross the Pakistan air space, which is anyway closed for the Indian fighters.
The Rafale aircraft took off from the Dassault Aviation facility today in the presence of the company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Eric Trappier and Ambassador of India to France Jawed Ashraf.
“These five Rafale jets are extremely swift, versatile and very deadly aircraft. They are both beauty and the beast. I would like to thank Dassault for delivering the aircraft on time and French Government and French Air Force for all the support,” Ashraf said ahead of the aircraft taking off. “The long awaited and much needed two squadrons of Rafale would add to the IAF’s strength and the country’s defence capability.”
After a complete training of Indian pilots and technicians by Dassault Aviation, with the French Air Force participation, the Indian Air Force will fully perform this first ferry, including an air-to-air refueling, with the dedicated support of the French Air Force, a statement from the French manufacturers of Rafale said.
“I am strongly impressed by the amazing efficiency and determination of the Indian Air Force and Indian Ministry of Defence, despite this unprecedented world health crisis, to master rapidly all aspects of the Rafale for comforting Indian sovereignty and contributing to the protection and security of Indian people,” Trappier said.
“This new milestone illustrates once again the exemplary cooperation between Dassault Aviation and the Indian Air Force, started in 1953, and reasserts our total commitment to fulfill Indian Air Force requirements for the decades to come, and to be part of India’s ambitious vision for the future.”
This first ferry testifies that the programme is running smoothly and that deliveries are on time in spite of COVID-19 pandemic, the company said in the statement. “It initiates the induction of the Rafale in the Indian Air Force, in the frame of the contract of 36 aircraft, and paves the way to fulfill the present and future needs and requirements of the Government of India.”