A batch of five Rafale fighter jets touched down to a special water cannon salute at the Ambala air base this afternoon, the first western combat aircraft to join the Indian Air Force 23 years after Sukhoi aircraft were imported. The French-manufactured Rafale multi-role combat jets covered a distance of nearly 7,000 km and were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that the "birds" had landed safely in Ambala.
"Welcome home 'Golden Arrows'. Blue skies always," the Indian Air Force tweeted with a photo of the Rafales in the "Arrow formation".
This is the first batch from a contingent of 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation as part of a Rs 59,000-crore deal signed by the government on September 23, 2016. The planes are expected to give a mega-boost to India's air power amid tensions with China and Pakistan.
The jets, piloted by IAF officers, took off from Merignac in southwest France on Monday. Spectacular visuals posted by the Air Force yesterday showed the jets refueling from a French tanker at a height of 30,000 feet.
The jets made a stopover in Al Dhafra in the UAE, where France has an air base. Soon after taking off from the UAE, the Rafales established contact with Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata in the Western Arabian Sea. "Welcome to the Indian Ocean... May you touch the sky with glory," the Naval warship was heard telling a Rafale commander in an audio.