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IAF may deploy Rafale fighters in Ladakh sector amid border row

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New Delhi, July 19: Top commanders of the Indian Air Force will carry out an in-depth review of the country''s air defence system at a three-day conference beginning Wednesday which will include possible deployment of the first batch of Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh sector in view of the bitter border row with China, military sources said.

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The main focus of the commanders'' conference will be to deliberate on the overall situation eastern Ladakh and on ways to enhance the IAF''s combat prowess over the country''s air space in all sensitive sectors along the de-facto border with China including in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Uttarakhand, they said.

The commanders are expected to specifically deliberate on deployment of first batch of around six Rafale jets in the Ladakh sector by early next month as the aircraft are set to join the IAF''s fighter fleet by end of July, the sources said.

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"The commanders will also review the evolving security architecture in the region and ways to boost IAF''s combat capability," said a source.

The conference will be chaired by Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is also expected to address the IAF commanders.

The IAF has been carrying out night time combat air patrols over the eastern Ladakh region in the last few weeks, in an apparent message to China that it was ready to deal with any eventualities in the mountainous region.

A number of IAF platforms participated in a military drill in Stakna in eastern Ladakh on Friday during the defence minister''s visit to the region. The exercise showcased integrated combat prowess of the Army and the Indian Air Force in dealing with complex security scenarios in the high altitude terrain.

The IAF has deployed almost all its frontline fighter jets like Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar and Mirage 2000 aircraft in key frontier air bases in eastern Ladakh and elsewhere along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China notwithstanding disengagement of troops by Chinese military from a number of friction points.

The IAF has deployed Apache attack choppers as well as Chinook heavy-lift helicopters to transport troops to various forward locations

It has also pressed into service a fleet of C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft as well as C-130J Super Hercules in transporting heavy military equipment and weaponry to several forward bases in the region.

The sources said the commanders will also deliberate on preparations to received the first batch of the Rafale jets from France. The jets are expected to reach India by end of this month.

The first squadron of the aircraft will be stationed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF.

The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons. European missile maker MBDA''s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile will be the mainstay of the weapons package of the Rafale jets.

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    The disengagement process between Indian and Chinse militaries began on July 6 after a telephonic conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi the previous day. Doval and Wang are Special Representatives for the boundary talks.

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