NEW DELHI: So, it’s finally jet, set, go! The first five Rafales tore into the skies over France with sonic booms on Monday to begin their 7,000-km flight to India, which will include midair refuelling and an overnight pit stop in UAE.
The three single-seat and two twin-seat omni-role jets, flown by seven IAF pilots led by commanding officer Group Captain Harkirat Singh, will touch down in Ambala to launch the 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron on Wednesday. “After India’s ambassador Jawed Ashraf flagged off the five Rafales from the Merignac airbase in Bordeaux, they landed at the Al Dhafra airbase in UAE on Monday evening after flying for over seven hours,” said an IAF officer.
The imminent arrival of the five Rafales, out of the 36 contracted from France in the Rs 59,000-crore deal inked in September 2016, comes two decades after IAF first demanded such fighters, and an intense BJP-Congress dogfight over corruption allegations in the last couple of years.
The fighters, dubbed “gamechangers” by IAF, will of course touch down here bang in the middle of the ongoing military confrontation with China. But top IAF sources played down the “overhype”, stressing that new fighters take time to settle down and be properly integrated into the entire war-fighting machinery.
“No new weapon systems, especially complex ones like fighters, can be deployed just like that. First the fighters have to be extensively flown in Indian conditions to develop tactics and other operational procedures,” said a source.
The new weapon, in effect, takes time to be weaponised. Moreover, the five Rafales do not constitute even half a squadron as of now. IAF has already deployed adequate Sukhoi-30MKIs, MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s in forward areas along the LAC to take care of any contingency.
“But yes, the effort will be to make the Rafales operational as fast as possible due to the border situation. It will probably take at least two months,” he added.
Watch Five Rafale jets land in UAE on way to India


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