The Indian Air Force (IAF) will soon operationalize its second Rafale squadron at the strategically located Hasimara Air Force Station in the eastern state of West Bengal, close to the China border.
According to reports, India will receive four more Rafale jets this month, taking the total number of these fighter jets with IAF to 24 out of 36 ordered.
With the arrival of new Rafale jets, the IAF would resurrect its 101st Squadron at Hasimara Air Force Station, one of the vital military installations in the eastern sector.
Previously based in Adampur in Punjab’s Jalandhar, the 101st squadron, also known as ‘Falcons of Chhamb’, had been operating the MiG-21M from 1981 till 2011.
Now, it is being resurrected at Hasimara with the new Rafales, making it the second IAF squadron to operate the French-made aircraft. The first squadron, nicknamed “Golden Arrows” was resurrected in 2019 at Ambala airbase.
The No. 17 squadron (Golden Arrows) also used to operate the MiG-21 until 2016, when it was number-plated.
Dassault Aviation’s factories are now working at full capacity to cater to increasing demand for Rafale fighter jets from various countries. While it has received new orders from Greece and Egypt, the company is committed to fulfilling the existing Indian order.
The Hashimara Airbase
Located near the Indo-Bhutan border, the Hashimara Air Force station is the closest Indian airbase to the Chumbi Valley, the tri-junction between India’s Sikkim, Bhutan, and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. This air force station comes under the Kolkata-headquartered Eastern Air Command.
After the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the need for an airbase closer to NEFA (present-day Arunachal Pradesh) and East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) was felt. Thus, the Hashimara airbase came into existence. It was used during the India-Pakistan war of 1965 and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
The first batch of Rafales landed at Punjab’s Ambala in the wake of a violent face-off between Indian and Chinese militaries at their Himalayan borders in Ladakh last June.
The Hashimara airbase assumes importance given the two-front threats India faces. While the tensions with China at the Ladakh border are far from over, Pakistan is being closely watched by the international community since it agreed to maintain a ceasefire along the de facto border in Jammu and Kashmir in February.
The Hasimara airbase is being revamped with extended runways, ammunition depots, blast pens, and personnel accommodation apart from maintenance bays, Hindustan Times reported.
“The airbase has been totally revamped and should be operational by end of this month. This will be the peace-time location of the aircraft but in war times, the fighters will operate from anywhere in the country as per war plans,” an IAF Air Marshal was quoted as saying.
The exact dates of the arrival of the next batch of Rafales are not yet clear. However, the HT report said the delivery of the remaining seven two-seater variants and five single-seaters would be completed by April 2022.
The deal also comes with many benefits for the Indian and French industries. Apart from the much-needed engine technology, France has offered to share and jointly develop technology for longer range and heavier Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range (Hammer) precision-guided bombs, which are currently part of the weapons package on the Indian Rafale, the report says.