This is a story where you aim for the sky. It is about a glorious moment in the history of Indian Air Force (IAF). It is the day of pride for every Indian as IAF pilots fly five Rafale fighter jets from France to India.
The Rafale jets took off from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux to land at Ambala Air Force Station on July 29, 2020. The arrival of this batch of new 5 Rafale jets (out of 36), assuredly helps India to gain air combat prowess and strengthen its defence sector.
The Pilots who flew the Rafale fighter jets home
On July 27, India’s Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf met the Indian Air Force pilots to wish them a safe flight to India. The jets touched down on the Ambala Air Force base tarmac at around 3:10 pm on July 29. They travelled 7,364 kilometres with air-to-air refuelling with French Air Force in the first leg, hour of sorties, and a single stop en route in UAE.
The bravehearts of the 17 Golden Arrows Squadron who navigated 7000+ kilometres to bring these jets home include:
– Group Captain Harkirat Singh: The commanding officer of the 17 Golden Arrows Squadron is a Shaurya Chakra awardee, the third highest peacetime gallantry award. In 2008 when his MiG 21 Bison aircraft met with an accident he did not allow his aircraft to crash in an emergency saving many lives on the ground.
– Wing Commander Abhishek Tripathi: A native from Jalaur in Rajasthan was a budding wrestler and cross country runner before he joined the IAF.
– Wing Commander Manish Singh: Belonging to the Bakwa village in Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, Manish Singh comes from a family where others before him have served the armed forces. He chose to continue the tradition by joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune and got commissioned in the Air Force in 2003.
– Group Captain Rohit Kataria: Inspired to become a pilot by his father who retired as Colonel Kataria in the Indian army, Group Capt. Rohit Kataria from Basai village in Gurugram, Haryana had his dreams come true when he flew the Rafale home.
– Squadron Leader Ranjit Singh Sidhu: Ranjit an all-rounder in studies and sports. When studying in Std XII, at Malwa School, Gidderbaha in Muktsar district he was inspired to join the IAF by his school principal Retd Squadron Leader Venu Gopal.
– Wing Commander Arun Kumar: Also among the pilots who flew the Rafale jets was Wing Commander Arun Kumar from Bihar. In all those years that he dreamed of flying higher than his father who was a junior warrant officer in the Army, he finally did it!
Some interesting facts
- The first Rafale’s RB-001 tail number carries the initials of Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria who was the lead negotiator for the French fighter jets.
- Of the 5 Rafale fighter jets delivered in July, three are single-seaters and two twin-seaters.
- The IAF Rafales are armed with state-of-art weapons including the beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air Meteor, short and medium-range air-to-air MICA, and precision-guided air-to-ground SCALP missiles.
- Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, has incorporated India-specific modifications on-board the fighter aircrafts. The made-to-order changes include a 10-hour flight data recording, Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, infra-red search, and tracking systems.
- 10 Rafale jets are ready for delivery to India but five of them are staying back in France for training missions. The IAF will fly home all 36 aircrafts by the end of 2021.
- Dassault Aviation is training 36 IAF pilots to fly the Rafale combat jets.
- On June 29, Section 144 was imposed in the villages of Dhulkot, Baldev Nagar, Garnala, and Panjkhora adjoining the Ambala airbase. It prohibits assembly of four or more people and also from flying private drones within a three-km radius of the air base.
- Jodhpur airbase was kept ready as a backup base for the arrival of the Rafale aircrafts in case of any unforeseen weather conditions that could hamper their safe landing.
- The pilots of Squadron 17, called Golden Arrows, who flew in the fighter jets wore on their uniforms, arm patches inscribed with Udayam Ajasram” (Arise Ever). They are designed by 22-year old Saurav Chordia, a young graphic designer from Assam.
- The ‘Golden Arrows’ was commissioned on October 1, 1951, at Ambala. But with the IAF retiring MiG-21 variants, the Golden Arrows was number plated (decommissioned) in 2006. But the squadron once again put on its heroic wings to bring home the French Rafale combat aircrafts.
- After a gap of 23 years since the import of Sukhoi aircrafts, the Indian Air has imported the Rafale western combat aircrafts.
- To mark the momentous occasion of the Rafale jets touchdown on July 29, 2020, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted, “The Birds have landed safely in Ambala.”
A peep into the purchase
During an official visit to France in April 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would acquire 36 fully built Rafales citing “critical operational necessity”.
In January 2016, India and France signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the acquisition of 36 multirole fighter aircrafts at Euros 8 billion. The deal was to procure superior fighter aircrafts that could launch from both, a shore base as well as from an aircraft carrier.
The first Rafale fighter from the order book was handed over to IAF in October 2019. The ceremony attended by the French Minister for Armed Forces Madame Florence Parly and India’s Defence Minister Shree Rajnath Singh.
The next five Rafale aircrafts arrived in India in July 2020.
The other five that are ready for delivery are currently held back in France for training more IAF pilots. The delivery of all 36 aircrafts is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
Though Rafale was declared L-1 bidder, the contract negotiations stretched until 2016 due to a lack of agreement on various terms including Transfer of Technology and cost related issues between IAF and Dassault Aviation. In that time, the contract began to attract its share of controversies with political parties insinuating an unfair deal. However, on November 14, 2019, the Supreme Court of India passed judgement dismissing any irregularities or corruption in the deal.
And the Rafale aircrafts are inward bound.
Government stops imports of 101 defence items
Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for defence self-reliance, an announcement was made on August 9, 2020, by Defence minister Rajnath Singh to stop importing 101 items of military equipment. The defence items contracted by the armed forces and Government of India worth INR 3.5 trillion are put on hold. The embargo covers sonar systems, high technology weapon systems, artillery guns, transport aircrafts, and light combat helicopters (LCHs).
At this moment, we are quite certain that the embargo will not affect the delivery of the remaining Rafale combat jets as India prepares to welcome the next lot of bravehearts who bring home the jets.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter welcomed the arrival of the Rafale jets with # RafaleInIndia. His Sanskrit tweet राष्ट्ररक्षासमं पुण्यं,राष्ट्ररक्षासमं व्रतम्,राष्ट्ररक्षासमं यज्ञो,दृष्टो नैव च नैव च।।नभः स्पृशं दीप्तम्… स्वागतम्! roughly is translated as, ‘there is no virtue like protecting the nation and there is no vow like defense of the nation’.