- First five Rafale jets will touch down at Haryana's Ambala this afternoon
- Chief of Air Staff RKS Bhadauria will be at air base to receive the jets
- A Rs 59,000-crore deal was signed on September 23, 2016 for 36 jets
A batch of five Rafale fighter jets touched down to a special water cannon salute at the Ambala air base this afternoon, the first western combat aircraft to join the Indian Air Force 23 years after Sukhoi aircraft were imported. The French-manufactured Rafale multi-role combat jets covered a distance of nearly 7,000 km and were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.
The fleet, comprising three single-seater and two twin-seater aircraft, will be part of the No. 17 Squadron of the Air Force, also known as the ''Golden Arrows'.
"Welcome home 'Golden Arrows'. Blue skies always," the Indian Air Force tweeted with a photo of the Rafales in the "Arrow formation".
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that the "birds" had landed safely in Ambala.
"The touch down of Rafale combat aircrafts in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionalise the capabilities of the IAF," Rajnath Singh said in a series of tweets.
This is the first batch from a contingent of 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation as part of a Rs 59,000-crore deal signed by the government on September 23, 2016. The planes are expected to give a mega-boost to India's air power amid tensions with China and Pakistan.
The jets, piloted by IAF officers, took off from Merignac in southwest France on Monday. Spectacular visuals posted by the Air Force yesterday showed the jets refueling from a French tanker at a height of 30,000 feet.
The jets made a stopover in Al Dhafra in the UAE, where France has an air base. Soon after taking off from the UAE, the Rafales established contact with Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata in the Western Arabian Sea. "Welcome to the Indian Ocean... May you touch the sky with glory," the Naval warship was heard telling a Rafale commander in an audio.
There is heavy security around the airbase, which is located around 200 km from the border with Pakistan, and large gatherings were banned in four villages nearby for the historic touchdown. People were asked not to gather on rooftops and filming or photography was banned.
Delivery officially started in October last year when the first Rafale jet was handed over to the IAF during a visit to France by the Defence Minister. The planes stayed in France for training of the pilots and mechanics. The entire contingent is to be delivered by 2022.
The Ambala air base has two squadrons of the Jaguar combat aircraft and one squadron of the MIG-21 Bison. The Mirage fighters that were used for India's air strike in Balakot in Pakistan last year after the Pulwama terror attack took off from there.