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Ambala, Hashimara to be home for Rafale fighter jets

Kalyan Ray, New Delhi, DH News Service, May 17 2017, 2:21 IST
Rafale fighter jet. File photo

Rafale fighter jet. File photo

The Indian Air Force has finalised Ambala on the western front and Hashimara on the east as the two bases to house two squadrons of new Rafale fighter jets that would be arriving from France from 2019 onwards. While the force chose Hashimara in West Bengal a long time ago, it recently selected Ambala in Haryana, sources told DH.

One of the oldest and largest airbases that the IAF inherited from the Royal Air Force, Ambala is home to the British-origin Jaguars and Russian MiG-21s that are being phased out. The IAF zeroed in on the Harnaya station after it ran into land acquisition issues with Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh, its first choice. Establishing the Rafale base in Sarsawa would have required an additional 540 acres of land, which meant protracted negotiations with farmers.

The IAF looked for alternatives and selected Ambala after reviewing a few other stations. On the other hand, Hashimara was the first choice for the eastern sector as the lone MiG-27 squadron in the north Bengal base is due to retire in 2018.

A team from Dassault Aviation had visited the base to review the maintenance and the infrastructure required to be set up. It was one of the eastern airbases that was spruced up up during the 11th Five Year Plan.

In September 2016, India signed the Rs 59,000-crore (7.87 billion Euro) deal with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets. The first aircraft is to be delivered within 36 months (by September 2019) and all the aircraft would be in place in 67 months (by 2022).

The jets would come with Meteor beyond-visual-range missile. Sources said the defence ministry and the IAF were trying to expedite the delivery schedule by a few months so that the first Rafale jet arrives in the first half of 2019. The IAF currently has 33 fighter squadrons as against the authorised strength of 42 squadrons.

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