India received its first batch of new combat-proven fighter aircraft in two decades with the arrival of five Rafale jets, giving the country’s air power a strategic edge in the midst of a bitter border row with China in Ladakh and frayed ties with Pakistan.
The aircraft, having an undisputed track record and considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the Ambala Air Force base at around 3:10 pm after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux.
Each jet was given a special water cannon salute at the strategically-located air base in the presence of top brass of the Indian Air Force including Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria who had played a key role as lead negotiator in their procurement.
Welcoming the arrival of the jets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a tweet in Sanskrit, said there is no virtue like protecting the nation and there is no vow like defence of the nation.
“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted as soon as the aircraft touched down here.
At the same time, he used the occasion to send a veiled message to China.
“I would like to add, if it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity,” the defence minister said.
The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.
However, their actual journey started almost a decade ago in Bengaluru, when the aircraft along with five other contenders of the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft deal touched down at the tarmac of the HAL airport in 2009.
The NDA government then 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 for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime.
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’.
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.