Much before it came to the Indian Air Force, the top guns in the IAF have only one adjective for the Rafale fighter jets – game-changer.
So how exactly, the French origin fighter jet will change the game in the sub-continent?
Compared to the existing IAF combat platforms, the Rafale not only has a far superior weapon package but it has the ability to see the enemy way ahead and engaging with multiple targets at the same time.
As a result, the enemy needs to deploy multiple fighters to take on a single Rafale jet, effectively lowering its strength in a war-like scenario.
Take the February 27 dogfight for example. IAF sources said Pakistan Air Force might not have planned the raid in such a fashion, had the IAF had the Rafale in its inventory.
Currently, the IAF has to deploy at least two Su-30MKIs for each of PAF’s F-16s. The situation will be diametrically opposite with Rafale as the PAF then would have to use two F-16s to counter a Rafale.
India would be having two squadrons of the fighters that would be kept at Ambala and Hashimara (West Bengal) to take care of the western and eastern fronts respectively.
“Rafale and S-400 (Russian air defence missiles) will enhance our capability,” said Chief of Air Staff R K S Bhadauria, whose initials (RB) will feature in the tail of the first aircraft that was handed over to the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in France during the Air Force Day. This is to recognise his contribution in the negotiations as the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff.
“Before handing over, our team completed the pre-delivery inspections. The next three aircraft too would be handed over in France and our pilots will fly them as a part of their training. By May 2020 they will come to India,” Bhadauria said in a press conference last week.
The prima donna of the weapon package is the Meteor beyond visual range missile, which has a range of 120 km. The air-to-air missile entered into service in Swedish Air Force in April 2016, making them the world's first user of this missile.
Rafale jets are also likely carrying Mica air-to-air missile with 70 km range and Scalp air to ground missile having a range of 300 km. The aircraft is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and the IAF looks at the opportunity of fitting the next generation Brahmos cruise missile into it once the missiles are ready for the IAF use.
While two squadrons of Rafale won’t be of much help to augment the IAF’s declining squadron strength, they would certainly give a leg-up to the IAF’s warfighting capability. The warfare in the skies is less about number and more about packing a punch, which the Rafale has in plenty.