Amidst fears of rising tensions between India and China, the Indian Air Force (IAF) formally inducted five French fighter jets into the No. 17 Golden Arrows squadron under Commanding Officer Group Captain Harkirat Singh. After a long time, the IAF welcomed a foreign fighter jet on Thursday, when at an impressive ceremony and after a traditional ‘Sarva Dharma Puja’, the ‘Rafale’ fighters from France were unveiled. The Omni-role aircraft which means it can carry out at least four missions in one sortie, was also given a traditional water cannon salute which is usually given to the fighters before they are formally inducted in the IAF.
During the induction ceremony at the Air Force Base, Ambala, defence minister Rajnath Singh said, “The five Rafale from the French Company Dassault Aviation can be deployed at a short notice at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.”
Terming the Rafale fighters ‘game-changer’, in view of the situation at the Indian borders, the induction of the five fighters is very important, the minister stated.
While stating that vigilance was the first measure of security on the northern borders amid current security challenges, “India’s responsibilities are not limited to land borders alone, Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. India is committed to world peace and to work with international community to this end,” the defence minister added.
Alluding to the ongoing standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) RKS Bhadauria said, “Given the security challenges the induction could not have come at a more opportune time. From the AFS, Ambala, the Rafale fighters can access the areas of interests faster. The pilots have undergone intense training with other aircraft and also firing of advanced weaponry.”
French Defence Minister Florence Parly, who was present at the induction, said, “If you are poetic Rafale means a gust of wind, and can also mean a burst of fire in the battlefield. With the Rafale fighters, India will have a strategic edge over the entire region.”
India had reached out to France recently to expedite the delivery of the fighters and the second batch of the fighter jets are arriving next month as well as deliveries of Meteor Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missile missiles. So far India has received and formally inducted five jets — three single-seat and two twin-seater trainers.
As has been reported earlier, these fighters are part of the €7.87-billion Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) which was inked with France in September 2016 for 36 Rafale multi-role fighter aircraft. These are to come to India in a fly-away condition with 13 India Specific Enhancements (ISE).
What will India get under ISE?
Rafale is a 4.5 generation aircraft. It comes with the latest weapons, has superior sensors and with a fully integrated architecture.
Infra-red search and tracking systems, Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, and low-band jammers.
The fighter aircraft comes with the Meteor missile. This is considered a game-changer in the region and has a range of over 150 km.
SCALP long-range stand-off attack air-to-ground missile.
MICA multi-mission air-to-air missiles.
The IAF has plans to add HAMMER (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) medium-range air-to-ground missiles. These are being procured through the emergency route.
Message from MBDA
According to Éric Béranger, Chief Executive Officer, MBDA, “There is a close partnership over 50 years with India’s armed forces. And, we are very proud to be equipping the IAF’s Rafales with a full comprehensive weapon package. This includes the game-changing Meteor and MICA air-to-air missiles. And, also the SCALP cruise missile to conduct deep strike missions in a complex and severe environment.”
Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd) says, “It will bring in the best AESA radar and the 150 km plus Meteor air-to-air missile against long-range manoeuvring targets, jets, UAVs and cruise missiles in a heavy electronic countermeasures (ECM) environment. 560 km range SCALP cruise missile will be very relevant for major interdiction targets. The 14 hard-points can carry 9,500 kg external loads.”
“The air-to-air missiles include MBDA MICA IR or EM, and MBDA Meteor. Rafale’s two Snecma M88 engines are the most reliable in the region. A thrust-vectoring variant of the engine designated as M88-3D is also under development. Its SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) imaging and improved resistance to jamming, and extensive use of radar-absorbent materials (RAM) are great features. The SPECTRA integrated electronic warfare suite would handle long-range infrared homing, radio-frequency and laser threats,” former Mirage 2000 pilot and Commanding Officer of No 1 ‘Tiger’ Squadron adds.
According to him, “The Missile Approach Warning (MAW) and jamming action will be automatic. The Thales/SAGEM Optronique Secteur Frontal infra-red search and track (IRST) system uses a narrow field for silent tracking air targets at ranges up to 100 kilometres. Aircraft have been used in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and Syria. The aircraft will bring new levels of technology. It would help India dominate the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). There is already a proposal to acquire (on the fast track) the HAMMER (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon (AASM).”
In operations, Rafale will fly mixed formation, network-centric missions in different roles, including airstrikes, air-superiority, air-defence and electronic support roles. “Rafale is clearly better than other aircraft in the region, such as Chinese Chengdu J-10, J-11, and J-16. It is class ahead of the Su-30 MKK and Su-35. China’s latest fifth-generation fighter J 20 has just entered service and is still under development. IAF’s combination of Rafale, Su 30 MKI, and upgraded Mirage 2000 and MiG 29 will be a formidable combination and challenge to PLAAF. Also, the indigenous LCA MK 1, the Jaguar, MiG 21 Bison make great fighter assets. Rafale will clearly stand out to be much better and operationally tested fighter compared to all Chinese assets,” Air Marshal Anil Chopra, an IAF veteran concludes.