The Commanding Officer of the first Rafale squadron Group Captain Harkirat Singh has been transferred to Shillong, seven months after taking command in Ambala. The Indian Air Force called it a routine transfer rejecting all speculation about the change of guard. Officials said Group Captain Singh will be overseeing the setting up of the second squadron of Rafale jets in Hasimara, West Bengal that will be responsible for threats from China in the eastern sector.
Sources said Group Captain had served as a Commanding Officer for more than two years and his tenure started just before the first five Rafales landed in Ambala in July 2020. The first five jets included three single-seaters and two twin-seater jets that arrived in India on July 29 flying from Mérignac in France after taking a halt in UAE.
Group Captain Singh along with Group Captain Rohit Kataria— his successor as the commanding officer was among the pilots who flew the first batch of Rafales to Ambala. There were two other Group Captains serving in the squadron in Ambala. One of them will succeed Group Captain Singh and the other will command in Hasimara where the next Rafale squadron will be ready by next month,” said an IAF official.
Group Captain Singh is a decorated officer who was given the Shaurya Chakra — third highest peacetime gallantry award in 2008 when during sortie flying a Mig21 bison he was faced with an emergency. He not only saved his aircraft but also ensured no lives are lost. In his new role, Singh will play a key role in the eastern sector overlooking the new squadron in Hasimara, officials said.
The Indian Air Force has received 11 jets till now out of the 36 ordered from France. Six more jets are expected to be delivered in a month and the remaining are likely to be in by April 22. With two squadrons complete within the next one year, the IAF’s depleting fleet strength will get a push. The two squadrons with 18 jets each at Ambala and Hasimara have been planned keeping in mind the operations against Pakistan on the western front and China on the eastern sector. India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.