India is likely to receive around six fully-loaded Rafale fighter aircraft by July-end fitted with the long-range Meteor air-to-air missiles, which is expected to boost the capabilities of the Indian Air Force.
The Rafales along with the Meteor missiles can hit targets at more than 150 km strike range.
“Depending upon the situation and the ongoing training of IAF pilots in France, we may get six Rafales by July-end. The aircraft will be arriving with their full package and will be made operational within few days itself,” government sources told a news agency.
The report comes amid the ongoing dispute with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The original plan was to get four Rafales including three twin-seater trainer versions for training the pilots at the Ambala Air Force station, which will be the first base of the Rafale fighter jets in India. The second base would be in Hashimara, West Bengal, sources said.
The number of aircraft set to arrive in India might be higher according to requirement and a decision will be taken keeping in mind the training requirements of the pilots already stationed in France, the sources said.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Indian Air Force has worked hard to ensure that the ground infrastructure gets ready by the time the planes land.
The IAF officials said the date of arrival of the planes would be decided by mid-July after taking multiple factors into account.
The first aircraft to be flown in is planned to be piloted by the Commanding Officer of the 17 Golden Arrows’ squadron along with a French pilot, they said.
The aircraft on their way from France to India would be refueled by a French Air Force tanker aircraft in the air before they make a stopover in the Middle East.
“From Middle East to India, there would be one mid-air refueling done by the Indian IL-78 tanker before they land in India,” sources added.
They said that the Rafales could have come directly from France to India but a 10-hour flight would be stressful for pilots sitting inside a small cockpit.
The first batch of seven Indian pilots has also finished their training at a French airbase while the second batch would be going to France as soon as the lockdown measures are relaxed in both the countries.
India had received the first consignment of equipment from France when a cargo plane landed in Delhi a few weeks ago and more equipment is expected to arrive in the near future.
India had signed a deal worth over Rs 60,000 crore with France in September 2016 for 36 Rafales to meet the emergency requirements of the Indian Air Force.
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 its neighbouring countries in terms of air strike capability, sources said.