In a long-awaited development, five Rafale fighter aircraft today took off for India from an airbase in France to join the Indian Air Force fleet in Ambala on Wednesday. The fighter aircraft were flagged off by the Indian Ambassador to France from an airbase in Merignac in France where the Ambassador interacted with the India crew flying it back to India. “The new Rafales add strategic depth and strength to India’s air combat capabilities. They fly out of France today to join the growing Indian fleet of aircraft,” the Indian embassy tweeted.

The five aircraft flying to India today includes seven Indian pilots including the commanding officer of the 17 Golden Arrows squadron. All the pilots have been trained on the aircraft by the French Dassault Aviation company as per the agreement signed for the biggest ever defence deal signed by India in 2016 for acquiring 36 Rafale jets for over Rs 60,000 crore.

The aircraft would make their first stopover at a French base in the United Arab Emirates on their way to India and would be refuelled by French Air Force tanker aircraft somewhere around Greece or Israel over sea before landing there.

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After a stopover, they will then proceed towards Ambala from there and reach by July 29 morning. The delivery of the aircraft was earlier supposed to have been done by May end but this was postponed by two months in view of the COVID-19 situation in both India and France.

The trainers will have the tail numbers of the RB series in honour of the Air Force Chief RKS Bhadauria who played a pivotal role in finalising India’s largest-ever defence deal for 36 Rafale combat aircraft. Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria was the Deputy Chief of Air Staff at that time and headed the Indian negotiation team for the deal which is the biggest ever in monetary terms in India. Armed with the long-range Meteor air to air missiles and SCALP, the Rafales would give India an edge over both Pakistan and China in terms of air strike capability.

Sources said the air to air and the air to ground strike capabilities of the Rafale cannot be matched by both China and Pakistan and the aircraft would give India an edge over both the rivals. To be made fully operational within days of landing here and able to undertake any type of operation, the Rafale is being fitted with the HAMMER missiles which can hit targets in the range of 60-70 kms.

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