The Indian Air Force, bolstered by its full complement of Rafale combat jets, on Thursday launched a major exercise covering the North-eastern region amid a fresh spike of border tension with China along the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh.
The two-day mega exercise is involving almost all its frontline fighter jets and other assets deployed in the region, people familiar with the drill said.
In a tweet, the IAF said the last of the 36 Rafale jets joined the force. The IAF inducted the Rafale aircraft into its 101 Squadron of the Eastern Air Command at the Hasimara in July last year.
The first Rafale squadron with around 18 jets is based in Ambala air base.
“FEET DRY! ‘The Pack is Complete’. The last of the 36 IAF Rafales landed in India after a quick enroute sip from a UAE Air Force tanker,” the IAF said.
Sources said the French-manufactured jet joined the second Rafale squadron in Hasimara that increased its strength to 18 aircraft.
They said the second squadron of Rafale jets was to be part of the mega air exercise along with other key assets such as Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft under the Eastern Air Command.
An IAF official said the exercise was planned well in advance and it is not associated with recent developments in the Tawang sector.
On Monday, the Indian Army said troops from the two sides clashed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Tawang sector and the face-off led to “minor injuries” to a few personnel from both sides”.
The face-off took place amid the over 30-month border standoff between the two sides in eastern Ladakh.
All frontline air bases and some key Advanced Landing Grounds in the Northeast are set to be involved in the exercise, said a source.
The Army and IAF have been maintaining a high state of operational readiness along the LAC in the Arunachal Pradesh and the Sikkim sector for over two years following the eastern Ladakh row.
The IAF scrambled fighter jets last week following China’s increasing air activities on its side of the LAC in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh.
The deployment of some aerial platforms including drones by China in the region preceded the Chinese attempts on December 9 to unilaterally change the status quo in the Yangtse area of the Tawang sector, the sources said.
They said a number of Chinese drones flew close to the LAC prompting the IAF to scramble the jets and increase the overall combat readiness.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday told Parliament that the Indian troops bravely thwarted the attempt by Chinese PLA from “unilaterally” changing the status in Yangtse area of the Tawang sector and there were no fatalities or serious casualties to the Indian troops in the scuffle.
“On December 9, PLA troops tried to transgress the LAC in Yangtse area of Tawang Sector and unilaterally change the status quo. The Chinese attempt was contested by our troops in a firm and resolute manner,” Singh said.
“The ensuing face off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts,” he said.