New Delhi: The historic moment for which India and obviously the Asian neighbourhood was waiting for came true today at the Ambala air base, when the five Rafale combat jets from France touched down to a rousing welcome from the cantonment city’s general public.
The five Rafales — two of which are of trainer configuration — were flown by seven Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots, including the Commanding Officer of the No. 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ Squadron Group Captain Harkirat Singh from Mérignac near Bordeaux in France to Ambala, covering over 7,000 km, with an overnight stop over at Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
The aircraft and the pilots were received by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R. K. S. Bhadauria at Ambala, where he had flown to from New Delhi in the morning. There was no fanfare under the media glare at the Ambala air base this time. Rathe, the media was kept out and orders were issued to prevent any photography or videography of the aircraft even by the residents in the neighbourhood of the Ambala air base.
So much secrecy was maintained that the residents of Ambala town could easily click pictures and shoot videos with their mobile phones, as the five Rafale aircraft came in to land at the air base. The restrictions seem to be only for the media.
Earlier in the day, the five-aircraft ‘arrowhead’ formation entered the Indian airspace off the Gujarat coast to a welcome from two IAF Sukhoi Su-30MKI jets. The formation entered the mainland close to Jamnagar and flew in the northeastern direction to Ambala air base, the home to the Golden Arrows, where the squadron has been raised.
As is the norm with arrival of a new aircraft in an air base, the five Rafales were given a water cannon salute. From here on, the squadron’s pilots will get their hands on the two trainer aircraft and would do the routine flights to get fully operational on the platform.
The IAF has planned a formal induction ceremony of the Rafale around Aug. 20 when the media and prominent citizens of Ambala would get the opportunity to see the aircraft in Indian colours from close quarters.
Interestingly, the Rafale’s weapons package have already arrived at the Ambala air base and are ready for integration with the aircraft during operational deployment.
The arrival of Rafales have excited the Indian nation, as never before, in view of the current three-month confrontation in Ladakh de facto border with China that is yet to be fully resolved to Indian armed forces’ satisfaction.
India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh had some profound comments to make as the Rafales landed in India, as a message to the opposition parties and to the nations in the Asian neighbourhood. You can read those comments in his tweets here:
Highlighting the capabilities of the aircraft, Rajnath Singh remarked: “This aircraft has very good flying performance and its weapons, radar and other sensors and electronic warfare capabilities are among the best in the world. Its arrival in India will make the IAF much stronger to deter any threat that may be posed on our country.”
The Indian defence minister thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his right decision. “The Rafale jets were purchased only because Narendra Modi took the right decision to get these aircraft through an Inter-Governmental Agreement with France, after the long pending procurement case for them could not progress.”
He thanked the Government of France, Dassault Aviation and other French companies for ensuring the timely delivery of the aircraft and its weapons, despite the severe restrictions posed by COVID-19 pandemic.