The Indian Air Force’s solitary Rafale squadron will add more muscle with the arrival of at least three more fighter jets in January, a shot in the arm for the IAF that is grappling with a shortage of combat planes, people familiar with developments said on Saturday on the condition of anonymity.
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This batch of Rafale fighters will be the third set of deliveries of the French-origin aircraft to the air force, which has ordered a total of 36 warplanes (equivalent of two squadrons) at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.
“At least three Rafale jets will arrive in India next month. The dates are still being worked out. The planes will be flown to Jamnagar from France without a stopover on the way. Refuelling support will be provided by Indian and French tankers,” the people said.
The jets were ordered from France in September 2016 under a government-to-government deal. The delivery of the three jets in January will take the number of Rafales in the IAF’s inventory to 11.
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The second batch of the IAF’s three Rafale fighter jets had reached the Jamnagar airbase in Gujarat from France in early November before they flew to their homebase in Ambala. The first batch of five Rafale jets of the 36 ordered by the IAF reached the Ambala airbase on July 29 after a stopover at the Al Dhafra airbase near Abu Dhabi, although a formal induction ceremony took place later on September 10.
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The arrival of more fighters will further boost the IAF’s capability to rapidly deploy the advanced jets in the Ladakh theatre amid military tensions with China, as previously reported by Hindustan Times.
The IAF has been operating the fighter jets – equipped with advanced weapons and sensors – in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on high alert to deal with any provocation by China amid a lingering border dispute.
The IAF will induct three to four jets every two months, with all the 36 planes likely to join its combat fleet by the year-end. The second Rafale squadron will be based at Hasimara in West Bengal to strengthen the IAF’s capabilities in the eastern sector.
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The Rafale fighters are the first imported jets to join the IAF in 23 years after the Russian Sukhoi-30 jets entered service in June 1997.
The twin-engine Rafale jets are capable of carrying out a variety of missions – ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance and nuclear strike deterrence. The fighters can carry almost 10 tonnes of weapons. India-specific enhancements on the Rafales include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, jammers and towed decoys to ward off incoming missiles.