New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Thursday formally inducted the Rafale fighters at Air Force Station Ambala, the oldest base in the country.
This was the first batch of five Rafales which landed at AFS Ambala from France on July 27.
With more number of Rafales joining later, the second squadron will be based at AFS Hasimara in West Bengal.
The event attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of the Armed Forces of France Florence Parly also saw the presence of a host of other top Indian military officials.
Both ministers held a brief meeting ahead of the induction ceremony.
A bilateral meeting between Indian and French delegation is also scheduled in the later part of the day today.
The newly-inducted Rafales will be part of the 17 Squadron -- Golden Arrows. The Commanding Officer of this resurrected squadron is Group Captain Harkirat Singh.
A total of 36 Rafale jets have been ordered from France, out of which 30 are fighters and the remaining trainers.
The formal ceremonies began at 10.25 am at the base with the arrival of the chief guests.
This was followed by the ceremonial unveiling of the Rafale and the traditional Sarva Dharma Puja (all faith prayer), followed by an aerial display by Rafale, Tejas and Sarang aerobatic team flying the Dhruvs.
The flying events started with a Rafale displaying some of its fine qualities, including fast turn, low-speed, minimum area turn and inverted mode maneuvers.
Desi fighter Tejas too showed its might during the display, including maxim rate turn, negative g-turn and minimum radius of turn.
A traditional water cannon salute was then given to the Rafale aircraft at 11:08 am ahead of the ceremonial induction.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria and Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar were among the top officials who attended the event.
The French delegation was represented by Emmanuel Lenain Ambassador of France to India, Air General Eric Autellet, Vice Chief of the Air Staff of the French Air Force and other senior officials. Eric Trappier Chief Executive of Dassault Aviation also was present at the event.
As reported by Onmanorma earlier, the Rafale will be a game-changer to IAF’s war-fighting capabilities. It carries a range of weapons including Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile.
A senior IAF official told Onmanorama that the induction bears greater significance to IAF taking into account the prevailing tensions with China.
“To have an impact, you need both superior technology be it in platforms, avionics, weapons, maintenance, systems reliability and availability as well as datalinks. And we need these platforms in adequate numbers, with top qualities and optimum quantities,” the official said.
He also termed Rafale’s technology superior to the fighters Pakistan can put together.
“Our western neighbour will be a worried lot now with Rafales joining the fleet. Regarding China, one is not so sure about their technology and many of their claims are yet to be substantiated,” he said.
He said given the restricted numbers of Rafales, the advantage would be limited in time and space and would last for only a few more years.
“The IAF has a plan in place and therefore their employment has to be well thought out. Our strength has been tactics,” he added.
A retired Air Marshal said that Rafales will be ahead of all flying assets of IAF.
“It will definitely be a shot in the arm for India. In the long run it will serve us in very good stead. With the base being AFS Ambala, the Rafales will close and handy enough to check any misadventures from Pakistan and China,” he said.
In his address, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said IAF has added a new chapter and a capability to rapidly access areas of interest.
“The Rafales have already flown and understood IAF’s operational environments since they landed here. Today it also marks the operational induction of the Rafales,” the IAF Chief said.
He thanked the French Air Force for its support during the ferry of Rafales in July by providing a tanker aircraft for air-to-air refueling.
“I expect the Golden Arrows to intimidate and dominate whenever and wherever deployed,” Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said.