What made Ambala Air Force station qualify for being chosen for locating our Rafale aircraft squadron?
Ambala air base is called the Mecca of Fighter aviation due to a combination of some very significant reasons:
Ambala base is around 250 kms from the Pakistani border and around 400 kms from the Tibetian region with Indian Border. It gives a good benefit for strike fighter aircrafts. This base was very vital during the 1971 (Indo-Pak war), during the 1999 Kargil war. It has been also reported that the Mirage fighters, that were used for the air strike, which happened on Feb 26, 2019 (in wake of Pulwama terror attack) took off from the Ambala air base, and the whole operation took 30 minutes.
Keeping a two front (Pakistan & China) war scenario mind, IAF wanted to position Rafales in an airbase from where both the Indo-Pak & Indo-China border are at an equal distance. This way Rafale would be at a flexibility to reach quickly on both the borders in case of any confrontation.
Ambala was a perfect spot as both the borders are equidistant. The Pakistan border is 220 km away & the China border is about 240 km from Ambala.
This is about 6–8 minutes of flying. This makes Ambala a very strategic location for high value assets like the Rafale to have a similar reaction time for action on both borders.
Ambala also is far enough from the border to have a sufficient reaction time in case of any surprise enemy invasion or attack. IAF didn’t want to risk placing the Rafales on a forward air base where the chances of enemy attack are more & sudden.
Once Rafales are inducted, they would be needing extensive combat training against Su-30MKIs & Mirage 2000s to be able to develop combat tactics.
This is possible only if we have a free airspace like a playground to play. On any border area this wouldn’t be possible but Ambala offers sufficient air bubble where the birds can train without going very close to the border where there might be a risk of enemy surveillance.
The base has multiple layers of advanced warning systems & layered air defence systems. During 1965 war, Pakistani B-57 bombers tried for a bomb run but couldn’t enter the airspace of the base thanks to its air defences.
Finally, IAF is an organisation which believes in the value of tradition. Ambala air base has always played a pivotal role in wars & conflicts. RAF operated from this air base in 1919, just after the first world war. Spitfires were operated from this air base during the 1948 war. Even during Kargil conflict in 1999, there were 234 recorded sorties which flew from Ambala air base, most of which were night flying. During the Balakot airstrike in 2019, the Mirage 2000 aircrafts flew from the very same base. It is due to this rich history, IAF sees Ambala AFB as very highly.
Due to this significance, Ambala Air Base has historically been the home base for numerous aircraft such as de Havilland Vampire, Hawker Hunter, Toofanis & MiG-21 which have proved to be decisive in wars & skirmishes.
It is because of all these strategic & historical importance, the first squadron of Rafale the No. 17 squadron “Golden Arrows” was established here. Currently Ambala air force base is also the home for 2 of the Jaguar squadrons, the No. 5 “Tuskers” squadron & the No. 14 “Bulls” squadron. The next Rafale squadron will be in Hasimara, West Bengal as No. 101 “Falcons” squadron.
The Indian Air Force has received the Rafale F3R, which according to available public data, has a combat range of around 1900 kms. (with payload) that is enough to deal with any major mischief made by the Pakistani’s or the Chinese.
One more advantage the Rafale already has is it’s low maintenance requirement, it requires minimum ground support crew. It’s Snecma M88 engine is quiet robust as the M88 engine, does not necessarily require to perform checks on an engine test bench before reinstalling it . The M88’s advantage in it’s design means that the engine can be changed and the aircraft can take off again within an hour.
It only add’s to the effectiveness and preparedness of this aerial combat platform.
Source:- Subhadeep Paul Quora