The first batch of five Rafale jets on Monday took off from France for India, officials said.
The multi-role fighter aircraft are scheduled to arrive at Ambala air force station on Wednesday, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force under a Rs 59,000-crore deal.
The fleet is expected to significantly boost the IAF’s combat capabilities at a time when India is locked in a tense border row with China in eastern Ladakh.
Indian Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf interacted with IAF pilots before they took off from France.
“Bon Voyage: Indian Ambassador to #France interacts with the Indian pilots of the Rafale. Congratulates and wishes them a safe flight to India with a single hop,” the Indian Embassy in Paris tweeted.
The first squadron of the Rafale jets will be stationed at Ambala air base.
The five Rafales are scheduled to be inducted into the IAF on Wednesday afternoon. However, an IAF spokesperson said a formal induction ceremony will be held in mid-August.
Official sources said the Rafale jets are likely to be deployed in the Ladakh sector as part of the IAF’s efforts to enhance its operational capabilities along Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in view of the border row with the country.
The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets.
Meteor is the next generation of BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
The Meteor is powered by a unique rocket-ramjet motor that gives it far more engine power for much longer than any other missile, said an official.
Besides the missile systems, the Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low-band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems, among others.
The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft.
The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal. The IAF spent around Rs 400 crore to develop the required infrastructure like shelters, hangars and maintenance facilities at the two bases.
Out of the 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.