Defence minister Rajnath Singh on 8 October 2019 formally received the Indian Air Force's first Rafale fighter jet from a series of 36 such aircraft purchased from France. Singh attended the handover ceremony along with his French counterpart Florence Parly at aircraft maker Dassault Aviation facility in Merignac, southwestern France. The minister performed a brief Shastra Puja on the new aircraft as he emblazoned it with an 'Om' tilak and laid flowers and a coconut, just before taking off in it for a sortie. He was joined by senior representatives of the Indian Armed Forces to mark the induction ceremony.
- India had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016.
- While the formal handover ceremony takes place this week, the first batch of four Rafale jets will fly to their home base in India by May 2020.
- All 36 jets are expected to arrive in India by September 2022, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.
- The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base. The manufacturers describe it as 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, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.
- Moreover, the 13 India-Specific Enhancements (ISEs) or upgrades on the 36 jets to improve tactical superiority in the region, which includes the engine capability to "cold start" from high-altitude regions like Ladakh, will become fully operational only by October 2022 after undergoing “software certification” after all have arrived in India.
- With a combat range of 780-km to 1,650-km depending on mission, the Rafales come armed with a deadly weapons package, advanced avionics, radars and electronic warfare systems to prevent jamming by adversaries and ensure superior survivability in hostile contested airspace.
- For one, its Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs), powered by ramjet engines for a range over 120-150 km at Mach 4 speed, are arguably the best in the world for air combat.
- The Sukhoi-30MKI jets scrambled to intercept the incoming Pakistani fighters on February 27, along with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and others in MiG-21s, found it difficult to engage the F-16s at long ranges during the aerial skirmish.
- Rafales with their Meteor missiles would have knocked down the Pakistani F-16s, which were armed with the AIM-120C advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs).
- The Rafale also has the fire-and-forget Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles that can hit high-value fortified targets well over 300-km away. Each fighter can carry two Scalp missiles for precision strikes deep inside enemy territory without crossing over into rival airspace.
- Rafale, categorised as a 4.5 generation aircraft for its radar-evading stealth profile, will be a game changer for the Indian Air Force (IAF) since most of the aircraft in its inventory - including the Mirage 2000 and the Su-30 MkI - are classified as either third- or fourth-generation fighters.
- The upgraded version of the Mirage and the Sukhoi 30 can at best reach up to the category of fourth-generation fighters. The indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas can be categorised as fourth-generation in terms of avionics and technology but it is too small an aircraft to make a difference.
- India will only be the fourth country, after France, Egypt and Qatar, to fly the Rafale. But the Rafale cannot be compared with the J-20, an indigenously developed fifth-generation aircraft of China.