The formal induction ceremony of the first batch of five Rafale fighter jets into Indian Air Force 17 Squadron was held at the Ambala Air Force station on Thursday. The aircraft boosts the capability of the Indian Air Force with its armaments. Its induction came amid escalating border tensions with China on the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, his French counterpart Florence Parly, Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar were present at the induction ceremony. Parly received a guard of honour upon her arrival at Delhi.

Singh said the induction of Rafale represents the strong ties between India and France. “The strategic ties between our two countries have also strengthened,” he added. “The induction is a big and stern message for the entire world, especially to those eyeing our sovereignty. This induction is important considering the kind of atmosphere at our borders or should I say the kind of atmosphere created at our borders.”

The defence minister also said the induction of Rafale jets is an example of India’s commitment to border security and will ensure its territorial integrity. “Rafale is considered one of the best globally,” he added. “Rafale deal is a game-changer for India’s national security.”

Singh congratulated the Indian Air Force and said the swift and deliberate action taken by them near the border during tensions with the neighbouring country shows their commitment. “The speed at which IAF deployed its assets at forward bases creates confidence that our Air Force is fully prepared to fulfil its operational obligations,” he added.

Florence Parly said it is a day of stellar achievement for both India and France. “Together we are writing a new chapter in India-France defence ties,” she said. “I congratulate all the people on both sides who put in their heart and soul into making the induction ceremony possible.”

The minister of the Armed forces of France said they were also fully committed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative, and she added that France supported India’s candidacy for the United Nations Security Council.

“This induction couldn’t have come at a better time given the security situation,” Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said at the event. “Intense integrated training and firing of weapons of Rafale has been done. They are good to go.”

A traditional water cannon salute was given to the Rafale fleet before its ceremonial induction. The ceremony also included a traditional “sarva dharma puja”, air display by Rafale and Tejas aircraft as well as by the Sarang aerobatic team.

On July 29, five Rafale jets, three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, landed at the Ambala air base from France. The five fighter aircraft had covered a distance of 7,000 km with air-to-air refuelling, with a single stop in the United Arab Emirates.

Reports have said the second batch of four Rafale jets are likely to arrive in October.

The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in over two decades. It comes four years after the Narendra Modi government signed a deal with France for a total of 36 units, as part of a Rs 59,000-crore agreement.

The deal had become a major political issue during the Lok Sabha election campaign last year. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, among others, had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of treason and corruption multiple times, and alleged that he had acted as a middleman for industrialist Anil Ambani in the deal.