Navy warship first to welcome new Rafale jets

Navy warship first to welcome new Rafale jets over Indian Ocean

A view of one of the Rafale jets in India (PTI)

An Indian Navy warship was the first to welcome the five new Rafale aircraft of the Indian Air Force as they flew home from the Al Dhafra air base in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

“Arrow Leader, Welcome to the Indian Ocean”, the INS Kolkata, a stealth destroyer of the Indian Navy, radioed Group Captain Harkirat Singh as he and other IAF pilots flew the new aircraft towards India. “Many Thanks, most reassuring to have an Indian (Navy) warship guarding seas,” replied Singh, the Commanding Officer of the IAF’s 17 Golden Arrows squadron, which was resurrected a few months back to induct the new warbirds.

"May you touch the sky with glory. Happy Landings,” the INS Kolkata wished him and the other IAF pilots.

Singh, who was awarded Shaurya Chakra in 2009, returned the compliments, wishing the Indian Navy warship “Fair Winds” and “Happy Hunting”.

The five Rafale aircraft flew nearly 8500 kilometres from France to India. After taking off from Bordeaux-Merignac airbase in France on Monday, they first covered about 5800 kilometres in seven-and-a-half hours to reach the Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates (UAE). The warbirds took off again at 11-00 a.m. on Wednesday and flew over 2700 kilometres before landing at their new home in India – the IAF station at Ambala in Haryana.

A tanker of the French Air Force provided air-to-air refuelling during their flight from France to UAE on Monday. An IAF tanker did the same for them on Wednesday.

Two Su-30 MKIs of the IAF escorted the five new fighter aircraft as they entered the airspace of India. “Welcome home 'Golden Arrows'. Blue skies always,” the IAF posted on Twitter, along with a video of the seven aircrafts flying above a sea of cloud. And, as they landed at the IAF base in Ambala about an hour later, they were accorded the traditional water cannon salute.

In view of China’s belligerence along its disputed boundary with India in eastern Ladakh, the IAF decided to immediately make the new aircraft deployable and hence opted to arm them with French HAMMER (Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) air-to-ground precision-guided weapon systems, instead of the Israeli Spice 2000 bombs. Unlike the HAMMERs, which were already used on Rafale fighter jets in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the Spice 2000 would have required trials and the process of integration would have needed more time. The HAMMERs have a range of 60-70 kilometers.

The IAF will also arm its new aircraft with Meteor, Scalp and MICA missiles.  The first set of the five aircraft included three single-seaters and two twin-seaters.

The delivery of the first 10 aircraft, including the five flying from France to India, has been completed on schedule. Five more Rafale aircraft, which were already delivered, stayed back in France for further training of the IAF pilots and support personnel.

The delivery of all the 36 aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021, the Embassy of India in Paris stated in a statement.

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