In a clear reference to China over the tense border row in eastern Ladakh, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday said the induction of five French-made multirole Rafale jets into the Indian Air Force is a "big and stern" message to those eyeing India's sovereignty.
The first fleet of Rafale jets was formally inducted into the 'Golden Arrows' squadron of the IAF at the Ambala Air Force station in presence of a galaxy of dignitaries including French Defence Minister Florence Parly, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.
"The induction of Rafale jets is a big and stern message for the entire world, especially to those eyeing our sovereignty. This kind of induction is very important for the kind of atmosphere that has been created on our borders," Singh said at the ceremony.
He said Rafale is considered one of the best combat aircraft globally and the deal to procure the jets was a "game changer" for India's national security.
The defence minister said the government is determined to do "everything possible" to protect India's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Singh's stern message to the neighbouring country came hours ahead of a meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation conclave in Moscow.
The much anticipated talks are taking place against the backdrop of a massive spike in tension in eastern Ladakh triggered by fresh face-offs between the two armies along the Line of Actual Control.
"In my recent foreign trip, I put the point of view of India in front of the whole world. I also made everyone aware of the resolve to not compromise India's sovereignty and territorial integrity under any circumstances and we are determined to do everything possible for this purpose," he said referring to his visit to Moscow.
The defence minister said India's responsibility is not limited to its territorial boundary only and that it is committed to contribute towards peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region as well as in the Indian Ocean.
There has been mounting global concerns over China's growing military assertiveness in both the regions.
In his address, Singh also complimented the IAF for its "swift deployment" of assets at forward bases, saying it created confidence that the country's Air Force is fully prepared to fulfil its operational obligations.
"I would like to congratulate the IAF for its swift and deliberate action near the LAC during a recent unfortunate incident on the border. It shows your commitment," Singh said without elaborating.
In the last three months, the IAF deployed almost all its frontline fighter jets like Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar and Mirage 2000 aircraft in the key frontier air bases in eastern Ladakh and elsewhere along the LAC.
"The IAF plays an important role in maintaining military deterrence and your action will be decisive in any future war. While the prevailing situation on our geographical borders has caught our attention, we should not ignore the threat of sponsored terrorism," Singh said.
Speaking on the occasion, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said the induction of Rafale jets could not have happened at a more opportune time considering the current security scenario.
"Induction of Rafale in Ambala is important as the fleet can rapidly access all areas of interest from the airbase,” he said.
The defence minister said India is enhancing its military power in its quest for peace.
"Our motive behind strengthening our defence has always been driven by our desire for peace. Our country is committed to not take any step which can disturb the peace anywhere. We expect the same from our neighbours, and the rest of the world," he said.
Calling induction of Rafale into IAF a historic moment, Singh said it also reflected "deep ties" between India and France.
"We have been successful in creating future-oriented ties...India and France have common views in fighting against terrorism and expansion of UN Security Council," Singh said while talking about growing convergence in ties between the two countries.
"The induction of Rafale into the IAF fleet shows the close ties between India and France. India and France have long been economic, cultural and strategic partners. Our faith in a strong democracy and the desire for peace in the whole world are the basis of our mutual relations," he added.