New Delhi, March 11:

The Indian Air Force is ready to raise its second Rafale squadron at Hasimara in West Bengal next month in line with its original induction plan for the French-origin fighters, people familiar with the developments said on Thursday. The second squadron will be raised in mid-April after the first one has been fully raised in Ambala, said one of the officials cited above.

India ordered 36 warplanes from France (equivalent of two squadrons) in September 2016 for ₹59,000 crore under a government-to-government deal. IAF’s Ambala-based Golden Arrows Squadron has already inducted 11 Rafale jets so far. Both Rafale squadrons will have 18 jets each.

“Ten more jets are expected to arrive in India from France by April-end. With this, the first squadron will be fully formed and the raising of the second squadron will begin,” said a second official.

All the 36 planes are likely to join the IAF’s fighter fleet by the year-end. The 11 Rafales inducted so far have arrived in three batches from France.

“Located in the crucial Siliguri corridor, the Hasimara airbase will cover both central and eastern Tibet. The Rafale will augment and add a bigger punch along with the IAF’s Su-30 MKIs which are already based in the Brahmaputra valley,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

The IAF has operated the fighter jets in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on high alert amid a border standoff with China and where both sides are negotiating disengagement of troops at friction points along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC).

India’s Rafale jets are equipped with modern weapons such as the Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, Mica multi-mission air-to-air missiles, Scalp deep-strike cruise missiles and the Hammer smart weapon.

India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases such as Leh, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, jammers and towed decoys to ward off incoming missiles.

The twin-engine jet is capable of carrying out a variety of missions – ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance and nuclear strike deterrence. It can carry more than nine tonnes of weapons on as many as 14 hard points.

Meanwhile, the commanding officer of the Rafale squadron at Ambala, Group Captain Harkirat Singh, is being posted to the eastern sector to oversee the raising and operationalisation of the second squadron, people familiar with development said.