The air force is inducting the fighters at a time of heightened military tensions with China

The Indian Air Force will induct its first batch of five Rafale fighter jets imported from France at the Ambala air base on July 29 if weather permits, an IAF spokesperson said on Monday.

“The IAF’s air and ground crews have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, including its highly-advanced weapons systems and are fully operational now. Efforts will focus on operationalisation of the aircraft at the earliest,” said Wing Commander Indranil Nandi. A formal induction ceremony will take place next month, he said.

The air force is inducting the fighters at a time of heightened military tensions with China. Hindustan Times on Sunday reported that the IAF could deploy its new Rafale fighters in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, where Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense border confrontation and disengagement has turned out to be a challenging process.

India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases.

Acting on a special request by the IAF, France has accelerated the deliveries of Rafale fighters to India --- five jets are coming instead of four that were originally planned to be delivered in the first batch.

Preparations are currently on to fly the jets to India with a stopover at Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates

The French air force will refuel the Indian fighters using its Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft on their way to Al Dhafra from where aerial refuelling support is expected to be provided by the IAF’s Russian Ilyushin-78 refuelers.

India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the IAF’s combat capabilities.

The possible deployment of Rafale fighters in Ladakh could be discussed at the IAF commanders’ conference in New Delhi from July 22 to 24 where the air force brass is expected to focus on the ongoing border row with China, the IAF’s preparedness and new purchases that have to be made fast.

“During the three-day conference, the discussions would take stock of the current operational scenario and deployments. The plan of action for operational capability enhancement of the IAF in the next decade will also be discussed,” Nandi said. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria will chair the conference. IAF in the Next Decade is the theme of the conference.

According to the original delivery schedule, the first 18 jets (including the four in the first batch) were to be delivered to the IAF by February 2021, with the rest expected in April-May 2022. Future deliveries will also be expedited.

France handed over to India its first Rafale fighter during a ceremony attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart, Florence Parly, in Merignac on October 8 last year.