IAF To Get 12 Rafale Fighters By April End, New Squadron Soon; China Upgrading Infrastructure At Airbases In Tibet
Three Rafale fighters will land in India next week and nine will reach sometime in April.
Sometime next week, three more Rafales fighters will join the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the Ambala Air Base, a report in the Hindustan Times says.
The three fighters are likely to take off from France on 30 or 31 March.
Another nine Rafale fighters will take off from France sometime in mid-April to join the IAF, the report says, adding that the IAF is likely to operationalise a new Rafale squadron at the Hashimara Air Base in West Bengal next month.
Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria will be in France in April and could flag off the nine fighters from the Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base.
The Golden Arrows squadron of the IAF, which is based in Ambala, has already inducted 11 Rafale fighters between July 2020 and January 2021.
At least seven more Rafales have been handed over to India but continue to remain in France for the training of IAF pilots and maintenance crew.
Based at Ambala and Hashimara, the two Rafale squadrons of the IAF will be able to focus on the threat from China along the Line of Actual Control. The Rafales based at Ambala can be deployed in Ladakh and those based at Hashimara can operate along the Himalayan frontier with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Rafale fighters were seen flying in Ladakh during the standoff with China.
China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is upgrading infrastructure at its air bases on the Tibetan Plateau to deal with IAF’s increased capabilities.
China is expanding the Ngari Gunsa airbase, located only 200 km away from Pangong Tso. Satellite imagery from February 2021 shows it is building hardened shelters to shield its fighter jets from enemy missiles and bombs. At least 12 hardened shelters are under construction at the Ngari Gunsa airbase.
The expansion of the base began sometime in early 2020 and continued throughout the military standoff in eastern Ladakh.
Satellite images from May 2020 show at least four PLAAF fighter jets, possibly J-11s or J-16s (Chinese variants of the Russian Su-27), at the base.
Recent satellite images also shows that the PLAAF has upgraded the main surface-to-air missile (SAM) site adjacent to the Lhasa Gonggar airport, which also serves as an airbase. It is located close Arunachal and Sikkim.
These upgrades suggest China could significantly increase the presence of its air assets on the Tibetan Plateau over the next few years.
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