Three more French-built Rafale fighter jets landed recently at Jamnagar Air Force Station (AFS) in Gujarat from the Istres Air Base in France. The three Omni fighter aircraft completed the 10-hour, 7,000 km journey to India with mid-air refuelling over the Gulf of Oman by an Airbus 330 multi-role transport tanker (MRTT) belonging to the UAE Air Force. They will be inducted into the Indian Air Force’s No 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’, at Ambala AFS, which now has 14 Rafales, including the just landed fighters. The IAF’s second squadron of Rafale fighters will be stationed at Hashimara base in West Bengal.
The three Rafales are part of the order India had contracted with French aerospace major Dassault Aviation in September 2016 for 36 warplanes (equivalent of two squadrons) for ₹59,000 crore under a government-to-government contract. France has already handed over 21 of the contracted fighters, however seven aircraft are being used in France to train IAF pilots.
The three fighter jets are the fourth batch of Rafales to arrive in India. While the first batch of five jets (three single-seater and two twin-seater fighter aircraft) landed at AFS Ambala on July 29, 2020, after a stopover at the Al Dhafra air base near the Strait of Hormuz, the second and third batches reached the Jamnagar airbase in early November and January respectively before they flew to their home base in Ambala. A formal induction ceremony of the Rafales took place on September 10, 2020.
Sources told Frontline that another nine Rafales would be landing in India by the end of April. While four will go to Ambala AFS to complete the Golden Arrows squadron, five will be ferried to Hashimara. All the 36 contracted aircraft are scheduled to be delivered on time, by the end of 2022.
For the IAF the Rafales are a welcome and timely force multiplier. But with the Air Force’s combat squadron strength down to around 30, a far cry from the 42 that it seeks to maintain, the IAF is hoping that the Narendra Modi government will move fast and take to its logical conclusion the IAF’s long-deferred requirement for 114 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).