The Indian Air Force will get a much needed boost with the imminent arrival of Rafale fighter jets, at a time when the nation is facing a major border conflict in Ladakh with an increasingly aggressive China.
According to The Print, at least five Rafale fighter aircraft will take off from Merignac in France Monday to arrive in India Wednesday and, if required, these aircraft can also be operationally deployed within a week.
Sources in the defence and security establishment say a total of 12 IAF pilots have been fully trained on the fighter aircraft, which is considered a game-changer in the region.
Several other pilots are completing their training in France — the contract stipulates that a total of 36 pilots will be trained by French authorities, The Print reported.
According to the contract signed in September 2016, 12 aircraft are supposed to be delivered every year, the Print reported.
French defence major Dassault Aviation, which is manufacturing the Rafale jets, had since October last year handed over a total of nine aircraft to the IAF. The 10th is undergoing acceptance trials by IAF pilots in France.
The source also added that the aircraft can be operationally deployed, if needed, “within a week.”
Under normal circumstances, it takes at least six months for full operational deployment.
However, according to a source, these are “extraordinary times.”
“The pilots have been on training mode till now. They now need to be in combat mode which takes time because they have to get used to the aircraft with multiple combat training flying.
“However, extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. If need be, the aircraft can be operationally deployed within a week of arriving or actually the same day itself,” he said.
According to the plan, the Rafale fighters will take off from Merignac, where the production facility of Dassault Aviation is located, The Print reported.
They will fly straight to the French airbase in Al Dhafra near Abu Dhabi in the UAE for a night halt.
This would be a 10-hour-long journey and these fighters would be accompanied by two mid-air refuelers of the French Air Force.
They added that the pilots have undergone specialized training for mid-air refueling through the Airbus 330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft that the French use.
After the night halt, the jets will take off for Ambala in Haryana, where the IAF’s 17 Squadron “Golden Arrows” — home of the first Squadron of Rafale fighters — is based.
The French government has also diverted an initial lot of cutting edge missiles meant for its own air force to India, The Print reported.
The missiles, which have already arrived at the Ambala base, include the long range Meteor air-to-air missile, manufactured by European firm MBDA.
With a range of about 150 km, the missile can attack an enemy aircraft without even crossing the Indian air space.
Another key missile on board is the 1,300 kg and 5.1 metre-long SCALP, which can be carried in either one missile or two missiles configuration.
The air-to-ground missile is also manufactured by the MBDA. It has a useful 600-km range and is known for its deadly precision.
Potentially, SCALP would be capable of wiping out Chinese reinforcements following a clash, before they even got to the border.
(Update: According to DefPost, The first batch of five Indian Air Force Rafale ﬁghter jets, built by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, departed the Mérignac facility for India on July 27. These five jets include three single seater and two twin seater aircraft. They will cover a distance of nearly 7,000 kms from France to India.)