By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, India, July 29 (efe-epa).- The first batch of five Rafale fighter jets landed at an Indian air force base on Wednesday, officials said, in a major boost to the country’s air power amid border tensions with neighboring China and Pakistan.
The French-made planes touched down at the airbase in Ambala amid security restrictions and prohibitory orders that banned photography and gathering of more than four people in the northern city, some 250 km (155 miles) from the national capital of New Delhi.
“‘Golden Arrows’ reach home!,” the Indian Air Force (IAF) tweeted, adding that IAF head Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria welcomed the first five Rafales at the Air Force Station Ambala, which is around 200 km from the nearest border with Pakistan.
“The birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.
He said that the touch down of the combat jets marked the beginning of a new era in India’s military history as the multi-role fighters “will revolutionize the capabilities” of the IAF.
“I would like to add, if it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity.”
India and Chinese armies are locked in a bitter military standoff in the easter border region of Ladakh where a border clash on June 15 left 20 Indian soldiers dead and 76 wounded.
The two nuclear-armed neighbors have territorial disputes over several Himalayan border regions, with Beijing claiming Arunachal Pradesh that is controlled by New Delhi. India too claims Aksai Chin in the China-administered region.
The two sides have blamed each other for the violence and accused one another of changing the status quo on the de-facto border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India accused its neighbor of sending a large number of troops and erecting structures in border areas of Ladakh, while China has accused Indian troops of provoking their soldiers.
India’s border tension with arch-rival Pakistan has also escalated amid the stand-off with China.
Indian and Pakistani troops have been regularly clashing along their de facto border, the Line of Control (LoC), in disputed Kashmir, which is also claimed by Islamabad.
The defense minister praised the air performance and electronic warfare capabilities of the jets which he said were “amongst the best in the world.”
“Its arrival in India will make the IAF much stronger to deter any threat (to) our country.”
The five fighters, expected to be formally inducted in the IAF by mid-August, are the first batch of 36 Rafale jets India has ordered from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation as part of a nearly $9 billion deal signed around four years ago.
India has continuously maintained the second spot in the list of the largest arms importers in the world after Saudi Arabia between 2015 and 2019, with Russia, Israel, and the United States among the top suppliers, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The South Asian country was also the third-largest military spender in 2019 after the US and China. Russia and Saudi Arabia rounded up the top five.
India and its nuclear rival, Pakistan, have often been accused of setting off a regional arms race in South Asia.
However, its aircraft and warships mostly date back to the Soviet era, prompting modernization demands by its armed forces of which Rafale jets form an important part.