With deteriorating ties with Pakistan, its closeness with China and the latter’s aggressive military exercises and an increase in Indo-China border patrolling, the Indian Air Force has decided to deploy Rafale jets in Ambala and Hasimara. IAF’s plan to station the fighter jets at eastern and western front will make it combat ready.
Faced with a two-front war scenario against Pakistan and China, the Indian Air Force is going to deploy its latest Rafale combat aircraft at Ambala in Haryana and Hasimara in West Bengal.
In September 2016, India signed a deal with French Dassault Aviation to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets for close to Rs 60,000 crore to arrest the fall of combat squadrons and meet urgent requirements on the eastern and western fronts.
“One squadron (comprising 18 aircraft) would be based in Ambala, while the other would be deployed at Hashimara. These would cater to requirements on both the fronts,” a government official told.
The earlier plan was to deploy one squadron at Sarsawa air base in Uttar Pradesh, but that did not work out due to land acquisition issues, after which Ambala was chosen. The Ambala base has some jaguar aircraft squadrons catering to the western front.
On the eastern front, the Hasimara air base close to the China border would see Rafale planes replacing the exisiting MiG 27 squadrons, which are on their way out of the air force.
In presentations given to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) before the acquisition was finalised, the service had stressed that on the China front, it would require a plane like Rafale due to its long range capabilities. The Air Force has rated Rafale planes higher than Su-30 MKIs, 272 of which have been ordered by India from Russia.
On the Chinese front, the PLA Air Force bases are deep inside the Tibetan plateau with the nearest base being over 150 km away from the Indian border. Sources said the French aircraft manufacturer has already started the process of building the aircraft, and they are supposed to be delivered from September 2019 onwards.
“We are requesting the French to advance the deliveries to meet our requirements and hope to get a positive reply,” the official added.
The process of developing the infrastructure at air force bases has also started and they would be ready by the time the aircraft fly in for operational service. The Air Force has already started the process of replacing its ageing fleet of MiG series planes on the eastern and western fronts, as it has been replacing the old MiG-21 variants with Sukhoi-30s acquired from Russia. On the eastern front, where aircraft with long range capability are required, the IAF has already based Su-30MKIs at Tezpur and Chhabua air fields, while it has deployed them close to the Pakistan front in Sirsa (Haryana), Halwara (Punjab) and Jodhpur (Rajasthan). The planes also operate from Leh, bordering both Pakistan and China and are capable of swift deployment in no time.