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Frontline air base in West Bengal, located close to China, likely to house Rafale squadron

New Delhi: Frontline Indian Air Force base in Hasimara in West Bengal is likely to be one of the bases for a Rafale squadron, a news agency quoted informed sources as saying on Friday.

However, a report in The Times of India stated that India will base its first squadron of Rafale fighter jets in West Bengal as part of the country’s policy to slowly build nuclear as well as conventional deterrence against China.

According to IANS, the first squadron is likely to be based at the Sarsawa base in Uttar Pradesh. One more base for the third squadron remains to be identified.

The TOI, meanwhile, reported that the IAF will station Rafales at the Hasimara airbase from late-2019.

Each of these IAF squadrons will have 12 Rafale fighter jets.

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Rafale is a multi-role combat aircraft built by Dassault Aviation of France. India and France signed an inter-government agreement for the purchase of 36 Dassault Aviation of France. India and France signed an inter-government agreement for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters off the shelf on September 23, 2016.

Hasimara is an important air base of the Eastern Command in northern West Bengal, located close to China, Bangladesh, and Bhutan border and set up after the India-China war of 1962.

It is only kilometres away from the India-Bhutan border. Nestled amid tea gardens and forests, it is known as the ‘Gateway to Bhutan’.

Hasimara houses two squadrons of MiG 27, which are likely to be phased out in the next few years. The base also hosts Akash missile systems.

The IAF currently has 33 combat squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 39.5, which is sought to be raised to 42.

The then Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, told the media days before his retirement on December 31 that IAF needs at least 200 more fighter jets in the next 10 years.