Indian Air Force readies Airbase to welcome Rafale Fighter Jet

The Indian Air Force is expected to resurrect its ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron on September 2019, which will be the first unit to fly the omnirole Rafale fighter jets at Ambala Air Force Station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Ambala Air Force Station is 200km from Indian border with Pakistan.

The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft.

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa will resurrect the 17 Squadron at Ambala Air Force Station as it prepares to receive the Rafale jets, sources said. The squadron was formed in 1951, and initially it flew de Havilland Vampire F Mk 52 fighters. India is expected to receive the first Rafale jet by the end of this month.

The ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron was commanded by Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa during the Kargil war in 1999. The squadron, which operated from Bhatinda air base, was disbanded in 2016 after the IAF started gradual phasing out of Russian-origin MiG 21 jets.

The second squadron of the Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal India near Bangladeshi border. The Hasimara Air Station is 133km from newly built Bangladesh Aeronautical Complex, a vital infrastructure in Lalmonirhat Bangladesh. The Hasimara Air Force Station is strategically located between Bangladesh, Bhutan and China. The Hasimara Air Station was used during 1962 Sino-India border conflict and only 180km from a vital air defence complex in China.

India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets. Under the 2016 inter-governmental agreement (IGA), India and France signed a €7.87-billion deal (US $8.88 billion) with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets — or about US $244.62 million apiece.

A number of IAF teams have already visited France to help Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, add 14 India-specific enhancements (ISE) on-board the fighter aircraft. The Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems, among others.

Manufactured by France-based Dassault Aviation, the Rafale is a twin-engine multi-role fighter jet that is nuclear-capable and versatile enough to engage in both air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks, with Meteor and Scalp missiles, respectively, making it one of the most feared fighter jets in the continent. In addition, with the on-board Electronic Warfare (EW) system, the Rafale can also perform reconnaissance and radar jamming roles.

The IAF spent $557 million to develop infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases to keep the Rafale jets.

In July 2017, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, during his visit to France, flew a Rafale jet at the Saint-Dizier airbase to gain first-hand experience of the aircraft. According to the deal, the delivery of the jets was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was inked.

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