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The first five of a total 36 Rafale fighter jets bought by India from France's Dassault Aviation have touched down at the Indian Air Force base at Ambala, 200 kilometers away from its western borders. Reports earlier stated that the jets would land between 1300 HRS and 1500 HRS.
The five new Rafale jets are being escorted by two A330 Phoenix MRTT tanker aircrafts that belong to the French Air Force, one of which is ferrying 90 high-grade ventilators, 10 military medical personnel, and 1 lakh Covid-19 testing kits to help with containing the virus in the country.
Two Indian Air Force Su-30 fighter jets escorted the five Rafale fighters once they entered Indian airspace.
Section 144 has been imposed in the villages and other areas surrounding the Air Force Base at Ambala, and law enforcement has been deployed to keep the masses away from the highly sensitive arrival of the fighters.
Indian Air Force pilots took off from the Dassault Aviation Mérignac facility in Bordeaux in western France, and will cover a total of 7,000 kilometers to their home base of Ambala.
Restrictions are also in place to prevent people from standing on rooftops, and all forms of photography and videography of the facility, and the fighter jets have been banned.
The jets landed at the Al Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates on Monday afternoon as part of the first leg of their journey to India.
The fighters were sent off in the presence of Mr Jawed Ashraf, the Indian Ambassador to France, and Mr Eric Trappier, the Chief Executive Officer at Dassault Aviation, who was impressed by the Indian Air Force.
Mr Trappier said, "It's amazing, the efficiency and determination of the Indian Air Force and Indian Ministry of Defense, despite this unprecedented world health crisis to ensure that the program remained on track."
Indian Air Force personnel including pilots and mechanics have been put through rigorous training for close to three years to fully understand the capabilities of the Rafale fighter jets.
The fighters will integrate into the country's No 17 Squadron, commonly known as the Golden Arrows, taking the country's squadron strength to a total of 31.
The multi-purpose Rafale fighter jets are capable of electronic warfare, air defence, ground support, in-depth strikes, and dogfights, and are set to change Indian air dominance over the next two years.
The Rafale stands 15.30-meters in length, and arrives with 14 hard point or weapon storage stations. The fighters employ a range of weapons depending on mission requirements.
It can be equipped with Meteor air-to-air missiles that have Beyond Visual Range strike capabilities set at 100 kilometers, SCALP cruise missiles ranged at 300 kilometers, and 30mm cannon that fires 2,500 rounds a minute.
As part of the deal, India will also receive HAMMER (Highly Agile & Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) missiles that are air-to-ground precision weapons. The missiles are capable of penetrating hardened bunker type targets within a 70 kilometer range.
The Rafale fighter jets arrive with a 10.90-meter wingspan, weigh in at 10 tonnes at empty, have internal fuel tanks that carry 4.7 tonnes of fuel, and have a range of 3,700 kilometers.
The fighter is capable of flying at Mach 1.8 (2,222.64kmph), and has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet.
India will receive a total of 36 Rafale aircraft from France in what is the largest military weapons deal India has ever made. The Rafale twin-engine jets were purchased by India during 2016 for a staggering Rs 58,000 crore.
Thoughts About The Five Rafale Jets Arriving At The Indian Air Force Base At Ambala
While the first five definitely add to the Indian Air Force' capabilities, it will be two years before the entire squadrons are inducted into the forces. Besides, India will spend the next year training its pilots, flight engineers and other personnel on the Rafale jets.
One can expect the fighters to be inducted into different assault roles as and when they are delivered, and to increase India air supremacy only after all 36 fighters are inducted.