The first set of five Rafale fighter jets entered Indian airspace on Wednesday afternoon. The jets will be formally inducted into the Indian Air Force in Ambala, Haryana, where Chief of Air Staff RKS Bhadauria will receive the fighter aircraft.
Security has been tightened near the Ambala airbase, located around 200 km from the border with Pakistan. Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits the gathering of four or more people, has been imposed in four nearby villages, reported News18. There are also restrictions on people gathering on rooftops and any filming or photography during the landing. The Ambala district administration has also prohibited people from flying private drones within the three-km radius of the air base.
Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said the people of Ambala were very enthusiastic ahead of the jets’ arrival. Bharatiya Janata Party’s Ambala City MLA Aseem Goyal asked people to light candles in their homes between 7 pm and 7.30 pm on Wednesday to welcome the fighter jets.
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in over two decades. It comes four years after the Centre signed a deal with France for a total of 36 units, as part of a Rs 59,000-crore agreement. The deal became the centre of controversy ahead of the Lok Sabha elections as the Congress alleged wrongdoing and favouritism by the government.
Delivery had officially started in October when the first jet was handed over to the IAF during Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to France. However, the planes remained in France for training of the pilots and mechanics. All the 36 jets are to be delivered by 2022.
These five jets took off from the Merignac airbase in Bordeaux in South France on Monday. Visuals posted by the Air Force on Tuesday showed the jets refuelling from a French tanker at a height of 30,000 feet. The jets made a stopover in Al Dhafra in the UAE.
The fleet comprises three single seater and two twin seater aircrafts. They will be inducted into the IAF as part of its No. 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘’Golden Arrows’’, and will be stationed at the Ambala air base.
The planes are expected to boost India’s air power amid tensions with China. “Our air force pilots tell us that these are extremely swift, nimble, versatile and very deadly aircraft,” said India’s ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf. “This is going to add a great deal of strength to our airpower and defence preparedness but it is also a powerful symbol of our strategic partnership between France and India.”
Former Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa called the Rafale jets a game-changer, reported Hindustan Times. He added that Rafale can counter any threat from China.