Three Rafale jets took off from the Bordeaux–Mérignac airbase in France on Wednesday and will reach India tonight, taking the total number of Rafales in the Indian Air Force inventory to 21 and setting the stage for raising the second squadron of the fighters in the country’s eastern sector, officials familiar with the development said.
“Next batch of three #Rafales leave from France to India today; wished the pilots smooth flight and safe landing,” the Indian embassy in France said on Twitter. This is the sixth ferry of Rafale jets from France to India
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria last month flagged off four Rafale fighter jets from France to India. Bhadauria was in France on a five-day official visit in April.
India ordered 36 warplanes from France (equivalent of two squadrons) in September 2016 for ₹59,000 crore under a government-to-government deal. The arrival of three new jets will allow the IAF to begin raising its second Rafafe squadron at Hasimara in West Bengal. The first Rafale squadron was raised in Ambala.
“The new jets will be based in Ambala initially before moving to Hasimara when the raising of the squadron begins,” said one of the persons cited above. All the 36 planes are likely to join the IAF’s fighter fleet by the year-end.
The IAF has operated the fighter jets in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on high alert amid a border standoff with China and where both sides are negotiating disengagement of troops at friction points along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India’s Rafale jets are equipped with modern weapons such as the Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, Mica multi-mission air-to-air missiles, Scalp deep-strike cruise missiles and the Hammer smart weapon.
India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases such as Leh, 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.
The twin-engine jet is capable of carrying out a variety of missions – ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance and nuclear strike deterrence. It can carry more than nine tonnes of weapons on as many as 14 hard points.