More than two decades after the Sukhoi aircraft were inducted, a fleet of five French-made Rafale multi-role combat jets touched down in India on Wednesday and were welcomed with a regal water salute as the country's air power received a considerable boost over its adversaries in the neighbourhood.
The state-of-the-art aircraft, considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the Ambala Air Force base after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux.
The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.
"The Birds have landed safely in Ambala," Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.
Television images showed fire trucks hosing down the fighter aircraft in a customary water salute.
Mr Singh said that "the touch down of Rafale combat aircrafts in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionise the capabilities of the IAF".
The BJP-led government had inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal on September 23, 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime.
The emergency acquisition was made primarily to check the depleting combat capability of the IAF as the number of its fighter squadrons had come down to a worrying 31 against the authorised strength of at least 42.
The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, are being inducted into the IAF as part of its Ambala-based No 17 Squadron, also known as the "Golden Arrows".
A government statement on Monday said 10 Rafale jets were delivered to India and that five of them are staying back in France for training missions. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021, it added.
The Rafale jets, known for air-superiority and precision strikes, are India's first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.