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Hilal Ahmad Rather : First Indian pilot to fly Rafale jet

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The first batch of five Rafale fighter jets will arrive at Ambala air base on Wednesday July 29, 2020. The aircraft flew out of the Dassault Aviation Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux on Monday July 27 2020, to arrive in India covering a distance of nearly 7,000 km.

The man behind the quick delivery of Rafale jets is touted to be Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather, who is currently serving as an Air Attaché to France.

India and France had inked an inter-governmental agreement in September 2016 for 36 Rafale jets worth Rs 59,000 crore.  Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had gone to Merignac airbase on October 9, 2019 to perform ‘Puja’ to get the early delivery of the first batch of Rafale fighter jets purchased by India.

At that time it was said that it would take a minimum for 2-3 yrs for the plane to arrive in India. Thanks to Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather the momentous moment for India has arrived earlier than expected.

The key person in fast forwarding the Rafale delivery is Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather and his team who played a big role in weaponizing the jets as per Indian conditions and they worked upon further enhancements of the planes and made it ready for delivery in a record time.

Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather is a decorated officer of the Indian Air Force and has the distinction to be the first IAF officer to fly a Rafale jet. He hails from the Bakshiabad area of Anantnag district of Kashmir.

Rather, he was commissioned in IAF as a fighter Pilot in the Flying branch on 17 December 1988. He was promoted as Flight lieutenant in 1993, Wing Commander in 2004, Group Captain in 2010 and Air Commodore in 2016.

Air Commodore Rather is a Fighter Combat Leader and a qualified Flying Instructor. He has more than 3000 hours of accident free flying on MiG-21s, Mirage-2000 and Kiran aircraft. He has commanded a Mirage-2000 Squadron and also a front-line Air Force Base.

Rather received the Vayu Sena Medal as a Wing Commander in 2010. He received the Vishisht Seva Medal in 2016 as a Group Captain.

Air Commodore Rather has won several awards. He has won the Sword of honor in NDA Khadakwasla, Pune.  He has graduated from Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) Wellington where he later served as a Directing Staff. He further graduated from the Air War College in the USA with academic distinction.

India has ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016. All the jets are expected to arrive in India by September 2022. , The Indian Air Force has made preparations for receiving the Rafale jet planes. It is ready with required infrastructure and training of pilots and other such perquisites.

The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base. The manufacturers describe it as a fully versatile aircraft which can carry out all combat aviation missions to achieve air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.

The Rafale fighter jets are being projected as a “game changer” in the region in the realm of air combat. It is seen as a shot in the arm for Indian defence forces amid the ongoing crisis with China.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com

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