IAF receives its first Rafale fighter jet
- 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.