The Commanding Officer of the first Rafale fighter squadron based in Ambala air force station in Haryana has been transferred to the headquarters of the Eastern Air Command in Shillong, official sources said on Thursday. Group Captain Harkirat Singh is set to be succeeded by Group Captain Rohit Kataria as the commanding officer of the squadron, known as 17 Golden Arrows.
The sources said Group Captain Harkirat Singh is likely to oversee the raising of the second Rafale squadron in his new posting at the Eastern Air Command. The Indian Air Force is set to raise the second squadron of the Rafale combat jets in mid-April and it will be based in Hasimara air base in West Bengal, the sources said.
When contacted, an IAF official described Group Captain Singh’s transfer as a routine one though it came a little over six months after the Rafale jets were inducted into the squadron. The first batch of five Rafale jets arrived in India on July 29 last, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.
The formal induction ceremony of the fleet had taken place in Ambala on September 10 last. A second batch of three Rafale jets arrived in India on November 3 while a third batch of another three jets joined the IAF on January 27.
The sources said the second Rafale squadron is being raised at the next main operating base (MOB) in Hasimara in mid-April this year. India is expected to get more Rafale jets from France in the next couple of months. A squadron comprises around 18 aircraft.
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia. The Rafale jets are capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile-maker MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile, Scalp cruise missile and MICA weapons system will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets.
The IAF is also procuring a new generation medium-range modular air-to-ground weapon system Hammer to integrate with the Rafale jets. Hammer (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) is a precision-guided missile developed by French defence major Safran.
The missile was originally designed and manufactured for the French Air Force and Navy. Meteor is the next generation of BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.