At least five out of the first batch of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft are likely to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) by July end, providing it much-needed muscle amid a depleting fighter strength.
The Indian Army is stretched between its northern borders with China where it is locked in multiple standoffs with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, while in the western borders it is busy tackling the increasing cross-border firing and infiltration bids by Pakistan-based terror groups.
In either case, it is air power that could tip the balance.
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The first batch of five Rafale will be inducted at the Air Force Station in Ambala on July 29 subject to weather. The final induction ceremony will take place in the second half of August 20.
“IAF aircrew and ground crew have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, including its highly advanced weapons systems and are fully operational now,” IAF said.
Post arrival, efforts will focus on operationalisation of the aircraft at the earliest.
The Rafale fighter aircraft will be armed with beyond visual range missiles like Meteor, SCALP and MICA, increasing their ability to take on incoming targets from a distance.
A senior Indian Air Force officer said that Rafale fighter jets would be a major force multiplier. “There would always be a fear factor within the minds of the enemies,” said the officer, adding that even one Indian Rafale fighter can thwart the enemy’s plans.
He also explained that India will be supreme in the sky when the Rafale fighet aircraft come to the theatre.
Built by France-based Dassault Aviation, the aircraft will reach India in July-end though their induction would take place later. Of the two squadrons, one will be at the Ambala Air Force Station and the other at Hashimara and will be dedicated for the northern borders.
The ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron, which operated from the Bhatinda air base, was disbanded in 2016 after the Indian Air Force started gradual phasing out of Russian-origin MIG-21 jets. It was formed in 1951 and initially flew de Havilland Vampire F Mk 52 fighters.
The squadron has been resurrected and will be the first unit to fly the multi-role Rafale fighter jets.
India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets for Rs 58,000 crore.
China-India Air Power
In the Western Theatre Command, the Chinese PLA Air Force has deployed 157 fighters and 20 GJ-1/WD-1K precision strike UAVs. China claims that its domestically developed J-10C and J-16 fighter jets are far more advanced than Russia-made Mig-29s, Su-30s and France-made Mirage 2000 jets.
It also claims that that its J-20 stealth fighter jet has a generational advantage over Indian aircraft, a gap that cannot be fulfilled by any means.
India, on the other hand, claims that the Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi 30 have give Indian Air Force an edge over China’s J10, J11 and Su-27 fighter jets.
India also has all-weather multirole aircraft, whereas only the J10 in China has this capability. It is stated that India’s Western Air Command has deployed 75 fighters and 34 ground attack aircraft, while the Eastern Air Command has deployed 101 fighters.
And even though the PLA Air Force has more fighters, airstrips high in the Tibetan Plateau would mean that they would have to trade-off between the payload and fuel. In contrast, Indian fighters will largely be using airstrips that are located at the sea level.