The IAF has raised the second Rafale squadron, the 101 ‘Falcons of Chhamb and Akhnoor’, in Ambala ahead of their formal induction at the Hasimara airbase in West Bengal for the eastern front with China. With the first Rafale squadron, the 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ fully operational at the Ambala airbase with its full complement of 18 fighters, the 101 squadron has been resurrected with five jets that have touched down in India, IAF sources said.
The remaining 13 of the 36 twin-engine Rafales, contracted under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France in September 2016, are slated to arrive in batches before April next year. The IAF is “absolutely on target” on the Rafale induction plan, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said on Saturday.
“The formal ceremony for the 101 Squadron, which had earlier been ‘number-plated’ with the retirement of its old MiG-21 fighters, in Hasimara has been slightly delayed due to the Covid pandemic. But it will happen within a month or so,” a source said. While Group Captain Rohit Kataria is the commanding officer of the 17 squadron, Group Captain Neeraj Jhamb ‘Jammy’ is heading the 101 squadron, he added.
Ambala and Hasimara were selected as the ‘main operating home bases’ for the 4.5-generation Rafales, though the omni-role fighters can operate from anywhere in the country as and when required. Hangars, shelters, maintenance facilities and infrastructure for the Rafales have come up at both the airbases. The Hasimara airbase, close to the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, was established with Toofani aircraft after the 1962 war with China.
Along with the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKIs already deployed at air bases like Tezpur and Chabua, the Rafales will now add a greater combat punch against China in the eastern sector. With a combat range of 780 km to 1,650 km depending on the mission, the Rafales come armed with a deadly weapons package, advanced avionics, radars and electronic warfare systems to prevent jamming by adversaries and ensure superior survivability in hostile contested airspace, as was earlier reported by TOI.
The Rafales, for one, are armed with long stand-off weapons like the over 300-km range Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles. They are also equipped with top-notch Meteor air-to-air missiles, which with a strike range of 120 to 150 km are better than any missiles currently carried by Pakistani or Chinese jets. IAF had also ordered the Hammer air-to-ground precision-guided munitions for the Rafales, in a deal that came last year amid the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. With a strike range of 20 to 70 km, the Hammer munitions are designed to destroy bunkers, hardened shelters and other targets in all terrain.