The bold talk telegraphed the obvious message: How do you like us now, China?
The tires on the five Rafale fighter jets were still warm from landing at the Indian Air Forcce’s Ambala air base on Wednesday, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the arrival of the aircraft in India would give the IAF’s combat capability a “timely boost” and make it “much stronger to deter any threat,” the Hindustan Times reported.
Singh, who had travelled to France last year to formally receive the first fighter jet, showered praises on the multi-role aircraft for its capabilities, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the decision to buy 36 fighter jets.
Singh also packed in a sharp, even if veiled, message to China’s military.
Singh didn’t name China. He didn’t have to.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has parked troops near the Line of Actual Control where it had been in a standoff with Indian defence forces since May this year.
It agreed to withdraw its troops from the standoff points after a bloody clash in Ladakh’s Galwan area following PLA’s attempts to erect structures on the Indian side led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of casualties on the Chinese side, the report said.
But what Beijing says and what Beijing does are often two different things.
It has been slow — some say deliberately — to carry out a disengagement of troops as agreed between the two sides in several rounds of military and diplomatic talks, the report said.
Besides, the army has also reported that the PLA, which thinned out its troops in the forward areas, had mobilized nearly 50,000 troops in the depth areas.
“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,” Rajnath tweeted and posted a video clip of the Rafale jets landing at the Ambala base of the Indian Air Force.
The fighter jets are widely seen as a game changer for India’s strategic capabilities who underline that it will significantly enhance the offensive capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF) with their advanced weaponry.
The jet is capable of carrying out a variety of missions — ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance and nuclear strike deterrence.
Section 144 — an emergency order banning people from gathering in large groups — was declared in four districts around the airbase, police and soldiers closed roads in the vicinity and photography and videography were strictly banned.
India sees a strong air force as essential preparation for the worst-case scenario of a war on two fronts with both China and Pakistan.
Its own analysis indicates such an eventuality would require 42 fighter squadrons (each containing between 18 and 24 aircraft), but its ageing fleet of Soviet-era jets has depleted to just 31.
India expects the jets to be formally inducted into the air force by mid-August, though experts said it would be some time before they were fully operational.
French manufacturer Dassault is expected to complete delivery of all 36 aircraft by the end of 2021.