Five Rafale fighter jets landed at the Indian Air Force air base at Ambala on Wednesday afternoon and are the first of the 36 aircraft contracted by India from France. It is also the first imported fighter jet that is getting inducted into the IAF's No 17 squadron, also known as the 'Golden Arrows', after 23 years when the Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter jets began service in June 1997. The five Rafale jets will now be taking the strength of the IAF to 31 squadrons. Although the number of squadrons in the IAF will go up to 32 once all the 36 Rafale jets get delivered in 2022, the figures will still be well below the 42 squadrons of the earlier sanctioned strength.

The precautions and security taken for the arrival of the aircraft have been massive at the Ambala air base, with the district administration issuing a ban on photography from dusk-to-dawn. The ban included no photography of any assets associated with the air force base under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code. 

An elated Defence Minister Rajnath Singh took to his Twitter page to express his joy at the latest addition to the Indian Air Force and described the arrival of the Rafale aircraft as, "the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionise the capabilities of the @IAF_MCC".

Group Captain Harikat Singh led the Rafale jets' team of pilots, who is the commanding officer of the Golden Arrows, and was received by IAF chief RKS Bhaduria at the Ambala air base. The first Rafale aircraft’s tail number, RB-001, are the initials of IAF Chief Rakesh Bhadauria, who played an instrumental role in negotiating the deal for the combat jets. 

The Rafale jets began their 7,000 km journey to India from Merignac in France on Monday and were refueled mid-air by the French Air Force before a short stopover at the Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi. With a top speed of 1.8 mach and the capability to reach almost double the speed of sound, the combat aircraft includes electronic warfare, air defence, ground support and in-depth strikes. The 4.5 Generation Rafale has been hailed as a superior addition to the IAF and brings strength to combat missions. 

A Rafale fighter jet includes 14 storage stations for weapons and also comprises advanced Meteor air-to-air missiles. Weighing in at 190-kg, the missile can travel at a top speed of Mach 4 and has a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) of over 100 km. In addition, the combat aircraft also comes with SCALP, which is an air-to-ground long-range deep strike cruise missile carrying a range of over 300 km, and has been known to outperform the F16 fighter jets in dogfights. 

Rafale also carries the MICA air-to-air missile, which is used for close-quarter dogfights and for BVR. Furthermore, the Indian government has also pitched for HAMMER (Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) in a recent development, which has been described to be an air-to-ground precision guided missile being manufactured by the French conglomerate Safran, and is said to be for the purpose of combating bunker-type hardened targets within the range of 70 km.

BASIC SPECIFICATIONS:

Top Speed: 1.8 Mach at high altitude
Wing span: 10.90 m
Height: 5.30 m
Length: 15.30 m
Overall empty weight: 10 tonnes
External load: 9.5 tonnes
Max. take-off weight: 24.5 tonnes
Ferry Range: 3,700 km
Landing ground run: 450 m (1,500 ft)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft
Fuel (internal): 4.7 tonnes
Fuel (external): up to 6.7 tonnes