NEW DELHI: The commanding officer (CO) of the first Rafale fighter squadron in the IAF was suddenly transferred to the headquarters of the Eastern Air Command (EAC) in Shillong, which raised eyebrows within the force.
Group Captain Harkirat Singh will be replaced by Group Captain Rohit Kataria as CO of the 17th Golden Arrows squadron at Ambala Air Force Base under IAF orders on Wednesday, sources said.
“It is highly unusual for a CO from a fighter squadron to be transferred to the IAF within six to seven months of the new jets – including the Rafales – being accepted. In addition, the 17th squadron has only 11 of its 18 Rafales so far, ”said one officer.
Within hours after TOI sent a questionnaire about the sudden transfer of Group Captain Singh to IAF headquarters, the force announced that the second Rafale squadron would be deployed at Hasimara Air Force Base (West Bengal) in the EACin in mid-April.
The IAF claimed that the deployment of Group Captain Singh to the EAC was “part of a regular changeover” of the force and stressed that the officer’s “expertise with the Rafale introduction to Ambala will be used for a similar introduction to the EAC “.
The 101 “Falcons” Squadronat Hasimara Airbase is expected to receive the second lot of 18 Rafales as part of the crore deal signed with France for 59,000 rupees for 36 of the omni-role jets in September 2016, as previously reported by TOI.
Incidentally, group captain Singh received the third highest gallantry medal in peacetime, the Shaurya Chakra, for his extraordinary courage to land a MiG-21 bison, despite the critical emergency of a “motor flame failure” during a wiretapping attempt in the practice in September 2008.
Group Captain Singh had led Rafale’s “main” induction team of pilots, flight engineers and technicians in France. Group captains Singh and Kataria were also among the pilots who flew the first five Rafales to Ambala last July. The Rafales were officially inducted into the IAF at a ceremony in Ambala the following September.
Since then, 11 of the 36 Rafales have arrived in India. Another lot is slated to land next month. All 36 will be delivered by April 2022.
The 4.5 generation Rafales, who have a range of 780 to 1,650 km without refueling in the air, depending on the type of mission, have added the much-needed assault strike to the IAF.
The Rafales, which can also deliver atomic bombs, are equipped with long ranged weapons such as the more than 300 km long air-to-ground cruise missile “Scalp”. They will also be equipped with the world-class Meteor Air-to-Ground -Air missiles, which with a range of 120 to 150 km can outperform any missile that can currently be fired by Pakistani or Chinese jets.
The IAF has also ordered the precision-guided air-to-ground ammunition “Hammer” for the Rafales. This happened last year as part of the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.