The arrival of first batch of five Rafale fighter aircraft jets at Ambala Air Force Station is definitely a massive boost for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) combat capabilities. At the same time, the launching of 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron at the strategically located Ambala air base itself is also significant as it indicates the operational preparedness of the Air Force only 250 Kilo meters away from the Western front. The fighter jets built by French aviation firm Dassault, took off from the Merignac airbase in southern France’s Bordeaux and covered 7000 Kilo meters before reaching India with air-to-air refuelling and a single stop at the French airbase in United Arab Emirates.
Dubbed as the “game changer” by IAF, Rafale fighters are expected to reset the aerial power equation along India’s international borders. The fact is, air power would be the decisive factor in future battle fields. The effectiveness, long reach and precision weapon delivery at stand-off ranges gives air power credible deterrence capability. Considering the operational versatility of the Rafale jets, it will not be an exaggeration to say that the fighter fleet will provide the IAF much needed punch to become a force multiplier.
For two decades, the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKIs formed the backbone of IAF fighter fleet and the Force flies 272 of the twin-seater, twin-engine multirole combat aircraft. Some of them have been modified to carry the supersonic BrahMos air-launched cruise missiles. The induction of Rafale jets with a deadly weapons package will add teeth to the forces’ operational capability. Each Rafale in the air would require at least two F-16s of the enemies for a counter-challenge. Combined with upcoming deliveries of the S400 air defence system from Russia, the Rafales will greatly enhance India’s air superiority in the sub-continent.
No enemy can interfere in the Rafale’s air operations. Rafale jets have been modified with various India specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low-band jammers; ten hour flight data-recording and tracking systems among others. They are capable of carrying a range of highly effective weapons, including the European missile maker MBDA’s ‘Meteor’, the beyond visual range air-to-air missile and ‘Scalp’ air-to-ground cruise missile. It is a fully versatile aircraft which can carry out all combat aviation missions to achieve air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance and nuclear deterrence.
While other nations, including France and Egypt operate Rafale jets, the jets supplied to India are more advanced and modified to meet specific requirements. Helmet –mounted sights and targeting system will give the pilots lightening quick ability to shoot off incoming weapons. It has also the ability to take off from high altitude airbases on a ‘cold start’ for quick reaction to any attack with deadly accuracy. The Indian Air Force is also contemplating to add new generation air-to- ground precision-guided missile systems ‘Hammer’ to Rafale to enhance the lethality of the fighter jet.
It may be noted that India has taken delivery of 10 fighter jets. Five jets are stationed in France for training of pilots and the maintenance crew. These jets are part of the 36 Rafale multi-role fighter jets contracted from France in fly-away condition with 13 India Specific Enhancements (ISE) under Rs.59,000 crore Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in September 2016. The first Rafale jet was handed over to the IAF in October last year during a visit to France by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. All the 36 Rafales are slated to be delivered by the end of 2021. The first squadron of the aircraft will be stationed at Ambala air force station while the second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara air base in West Bengal. Both the airbases will house 18 each for the Western and Eastern fronts. Needless to mention that both the squadrons will significantly add to the qualitative and quantitative edge that the IAF already have over its adversaries in both the fronts.
The arrival of the Rafale jets marks yet another series of fighter jets from France joining the Indian Air Force–a legacy that started in 1953 with the supply of the Toofani fighters and later the Mirage 2000. The induction of the Rafale will enhance the strategic partnership between India and France in greater way.
Script : Uttam Kumar Biswas, Defence Analyst