The commanding officer (CO) of the first Rafale Squadron of the Indian Air Force, Group Captain Harkirat Singh, has been transferred to the Eastern Air Command (EAC) in Shillong, just six months after taking command, sources said.While the Indian Air Force (IAF) maintained that it is a routine transfer, the move has raised eyebrows in the service with questions being raised as to "why he was removed within six months of command of the first Rafale fighter squadron".Top officers remained tight-lipped over the decision taken by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria.However, the IAF maintained that "Group Captain Harkirat Singh will be based at the Eastern Air Command (EAC) in Shillong and would be overlooking the raising of the second squadron of Rafale jets at the Hasimara Air Force base in West Bengal".The force said that the officer's expertise with the Rafale induction in Ambala will be utilised for a similar induction in the Eastern Air Command. "There is nothing unusual and the changeover happened as per the plan," said an IAF official.
The first Rafale 17 Squadron 'Golden Arrows' was raised on September 10, 2020 after five jets were inducted formally.Back at Ambala air base, Group Captain Rohit Kataria took over as the Commanding Officer of the 17 Golden Arrows Squadron, as per the order issued by the IAF on Wednesday.Harkirat Singh had led the Rafale induction team of pilots, flight engineers and technicians in France. Both Harkirat Singh and Kataria were among those who flew the first five Rafales to Ambala in July last year.India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.Rafale is a 4.5 generation aircraft and has the latest weapons, superior sensors and fully integrated architecture. It is an omni-role aircraft which means it can carry out at least four missions in one sortie.The fighter aircraft have HAMMER missiles. It will also be armed with beyond visual range missiles like Meteor, SCALP and MICA, increasing their ability to take on incoming targets from a distance.