The Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft was formally inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the Ambala Airbase on September 10.
The five Rafales, three single seaters and two double seaters, which landed at the same airbase on July 29 were inducted into 17 Squadron also known as “Golden Arrows”. The next batch of Rafales is expected to come this month or in October.
India ordered 36 Rafales from Dassault Aviation of France in a deal worth Rs 60,000 crore.
Why is Rafale so important for the Indian Air Force?
The IAF is not only facing a fast-depleting fleet but also the 270 odd Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft have not been able to meet expectations and because of that IAF still has to rely on the nearly 40-year-old Mirage 2000 to carry out critical missions like the Balakot strike.
IAF needs 42 fighter aircraft squadrons to fight a simultaneous war against Pakistan and China but at the moment it has 30 squadrons as older aircraft like MiG-21, 23 and 27 have retired and more will be retiring in the next few years.
There have been no replacements because the indigenous Tejas is taking a long time to mature and its manufacturing rate is very low.
Enter the Rafale as a saviour. The Rafale is perhaps the best combat aircraft in the region at the moment. Both Pakistan and China don’t have an aircraft with similar capabilities.
It is a 4.5 generation fighter plane with class-leading weapons, sensors, avionics and countermeasure systems.
Rafale can not only go into enemy territory stealthily and successfully destroy critical targets with high precision, it can also defend the country against attacking enemy aircraft by shooting them down before they can even enter the country’s borders.
Added to that is its capability to carry out both roles at the same time. Rafale can be loaded with air to ground missiles and bombs and also air to air missiles which allows it to destroy ground as well as aerial targets on the same mission.
The aircraft also has a low radar cross section (RCS) which makes it very difficult for ground and aerial radars to pick it up. This gives it a capability to sneak into enemy territory without detection or very low probability of detection.
Aerodynamically the Rafale is very refined and coupled with its state-of-the-art fly-by-wire controls makes piloting the aircraft a breeze making it very manoeuvrable which comes in handy in dogfights against other aircraft.
The two engines of the aircraft are so powerful and advanced that they not only give the aircraft a very high thrust to weight ratio, which aids in manoeuvring dogfights, but also endow it with the ability to super cruise, which is to go faster than the speed of sound or Mach 1, without engaging afterburners, which burn lot of fuel.
The sensor suite abroad the Rafale includes the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST). The radar on the Rafale has a very long range though the exact range is classified. It can track and engage multiple aerial targets in both air-to-air and air-to-ground mode.
However, using the radar alerts the enemy about the presence of Rafale which is where the IRST come into play. It allows the pilot to switch off the radar and search, track and engage targets by detecting their heat signatures without the enemy knowing that a Rafale is in the area.
To protect itself, Rafale has a very advanced self-defence suite called SPECTRA which not only automatically detects threats like enemy radars locking on the aircraft and missiles being fired at it but also automatically deploys countermeasures to jam such radars or defeat the missiles all this while the pilot is busy flying the aircraft, engaging targets or firing weapons.
All these sensors have been fused so meticulously on the Rafale that they give the pilot one comprehensive picture of the battlespace which makes his workload that much easier and he doesn’t need to check inputs being received by each sensor.
To share target or any other information with friendly aircraft and friendly forces on the ground the Rafale is fitted with secure datalinks which can’t be jammed or hacked by the enemy.
The weapons carried by the Rafale are equally impressive.
It has 14 weapon-carrying stations which can be fitted with more than 9000 kg or 9 tons of weapons and fuel pods. Air to air weapons carried by the Rafale are the Meteor and MICA missiles while the air to ground weapons include SCALP missile and HAMMER smart munitions though it can carry other weapons in IAF arsenal too.
The Meteor at the moment is the world’s longest-ranged missile with the capability to shoot down an aircraft more than 150 km away though its actual range is classified. The MICA missile has a range of 40 km for the infra-red guided version and more than 70 km for the radar-guided version.
The SCALP missile has a range in excess of 300 km while HAMMER can hit targets at distance of more than 70 km away.
Both China and Pakistan don’t have anything in their air force which can match the Rafale which makes it a gamechanger for India and gives it an edge over its adversaries.
(All photos have been clicked by the author during the induction ceremony)
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