The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to get the first air dominance Rafale fighter jet from French Dassault Aviation in the second week of next month. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will be in France to receive the first Rafale jet. The IAF would train 24 pilots in three different batches for flying the Rafales till May next year. The first batch of jets will arrive in India during that time. The decision of urgent procurement of Rafale is very logical as over the years Defence strategists in New Delhi were grappling with the question of how to replace hundreds of obsolete IAF MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27 fighters that have been steadily retired from service.
Moreover, developments in India’s immediate neighbourhood over the past decades and ever increasing cross border terrorism led Indian leadership to concentrate on the urgency of Defence procurement. Recent times have also witnessed a paradigm shift in India’s Defence policy from confining itself only in theory of refrain and deterrence to a tough hard-line approach to counter state sponsored terrorism by the immediate neighbouring country. Even India has given a clear-cut message that if situation demands New Delhi will not hesitate to review its “No first use” nuclear doctrine.
The Balakot surgical strikes, last February is the indication of the trajectory that Indian Armed Forces will follow henceforth. Indian leadership also feels that the emerging situation in the northern front cannot be tackled without more effective air power and weaponry system. It is in this context that special emphasis was given on procurement of Rafale. After the Balakot operation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that Rafale fighters could have delivered even better results. His reference was apparently to the stealth and capabilities of Rafale which present Indian squadrons do not have. Indian Air Force had to depend on a dozen Mirage-2000 aircraft, made by the same company during the operation.
Proven records indicate that Rafale is one of the best fighters around, which is only ‘half-a-generation’ behind the US F-22 Raptor, the world’s most advanced fighter. It will offer the IAF a tremendous advantage.
In fact, Rafale will be a ‘Game Changer’ for Indian Air Force because they have the capability of ‘enemy non-interference in air operations. Equipped with a wide range of weapons Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, in-depth strike and nuclear deterrence missions. Rafales will also fulfil Indian requirements such as giving the pilots lightening quick ability to shoot-off weapons, ability to take off from high altitude airbases like Leh for quick reaction deployment, a radar warning receiver to identify hostile tracking systems and a towed decoy system to thwart incoming missile attacks.
There are also the latest weapons in Rafale which include a long range ground attack missile that can take out targets with extreme accuracy at a range of 300 km. Another one is the air to air missile, possibly the best in its class. It can take out enemy aircraft at range of over 100 km. Rafales are combat proven and have actively taken part in many wars over the years.
In a related development, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh flew on a ‘test-sortie’ on the ‘Tejas’ aircraft. Tejas is a multi-role supersonic aircraft, designed to carry a veritable plethora of air-to-air, air-to-surface, precision guided and stand-off missiles and weaponry. This aircraft is also expected to join the IAF soon.
A growing India has an ever increasing number of national interests. It needs to field a potent military capability to defend her interests. In this context, India is relying on indigenously manufactured weaponry, backed by a robust industrial capability. This conveys strategic independence and an independent national capability and power. Rafale may be the best aircraft for the IAF’s current requirements in terms of capabilities, but for long-term benefits, the focus needs to be on domestic industrial capability enhancement using current purchases as the tool towards that end.
Script: Uttam Kumar Biswas, Defence Analyst