An Indian Air Force team, led by a two-star officer, is currently in France to review the progress of the Rafale project even as the second batch of fighters is set to reach their home base in Ambala in the next few weeks, officials familiar with the developments said on Thursday. The team, headed by the assistant chief of air staff (projects), reached France earlier this week for a scheduled review of the project, the officials said Five Rafale jets of the 36 ordered by the IAF reached the Ambala airbase on July 29 after a stopover at the Al Dhafra airbase near Abu Dhabi, although a formal induction ceremony took place later on September 10. The officials said the next batch of three or four Rafale jets is expected to arrive in the next few weeks (the date is being finalized) and will further boost the IAF’s capability to rapidly deploy the advanced jets amid tensions with neighboring China and Pakistan. The IAF is expecting three or four Rafale jets to be delivered every two months, with all the planes likely to join the air force’s combat fleet by the year-end.
The Rafale fighters—the first imported jets to be inducted into the IAF in 23 years after the Russian Sukhoi-30 jets entered service in June 1997—have significantly enhanced the offensive capabilities of the IAF. The IAF is operating the Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on high alert to deal with any provocation by China even as military and diplomatic talks have failed to reduce friction in the sensitive Ladakh theatre. AIAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria recently said the integration of Rafale fighter jets brought in a platform armed with advanced weapons, sensors, and technologies that gave the IAF an operational and technological edge. “Combined with upgraded operational capabilities of our current fighter fleet, it gives us the ability to shoot first and strike deep and hard, even in contested airspace,” the IAF chief said.
The jets were ordered from France in September 2016 under a government-to-government deal worth Rs 59,000 crore. India-specific enhancements on the Rafales include a helmet-mounted sight, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, jammers, cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases, and towed decoys to ward off incoming missiles. The twin-engine jet is capable of carrying out a variety of missions —ground and sea attack, air defense and air superiority, reconnaissance, and nuclear strike deterrence. It can carry almost 10 tonnes of weapons.