India is set to get the first batch of four or six Rafale fighters by 27 July. The aircraft are armed with the Meteor air-to-air missiles and Scalp cruise missiles, constituting a formidable weapon system.
India has urged France to speed up the delivery schedule of the 36 Rafale aircraft, under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked in September 2016, amid the ongoing troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China.
The first four or six Rafale jets that IAF pilots, who have been trained in France, will fly are likely to touch down at the Ambala air base on 27 July after a stopover at the al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi. The omni-role fighters are likely to undergo mid-air refueling through IL-78 tanker aircraft of IAF during their flight from the UAE to India.
Sources said the deliveries of the Meteor missiles and the over 300-km range Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles have already begun. The Meteor, with a strike range of 120 to 150 km, can outgun any missile Pakistani or Chinese jets fire.
The first four Rafales were to reach Ambala by May, with all the 36 jets arriving by April 2022 — as per the original delivery schedule. In view of the fact thay the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the delivery of the first four Rafale aircraft, India has asked France to compress the entire delivery schedule, given the heightened tensions with China.
The Rafale jets will significantly add to the qualitative and quantitative edge the IAF already has over the People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control.
The IAF has already inducted Sukhoi-30MKI, MiG-29 and Jaguar fighters into forward air bases along the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) to deter China from any misadventure, as was earlier reported.
An IAF induction team of pilots, engineers and technicians has been undergoing training since last year in France. It has so far handed almost 10 Rafales to India there. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had visited France to formally accept the first fighter at Merignac in the Bordeaux region on 8 October.
The IAF will deploy 18 Rafale jets each at the Ambala (17 Golden Arrows squadron) and Hasimara (101 Falcons squadrons) air bases for the western and eastern fronts with Pakistan and China.
The operational dynamics for achieving “air dominance” will change with the induction of the Rafale fighter aircraft armed with the Meteor beyond visual range (BVR) missiles and powered by Ramjet engines to fly at Mach 4 speeds.
The Meteor missiles are arguably the best in the world for air combat duels, with “a greater no-escape zone” for hostile fighters than any comparable BVR weapon. Pakistan and China do not currently have any missile of this class in their combat inventories.
The Rafale, with a combat range of 780-km to 1,650-km depending on mission, comes 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.
Each Rafale, for instance, can additionally carry two fire-and-forget Scalp cruise missiles to hit high-value fortified targets well over 300-km away. But the 13 India-Specific Enhancements (ISEs) or upgrades on the 36 Rafales will become fully operational only by October 2022 after undergoing “software certification” after all the jets have arrived in India.
The upgrades range from radar enhancements, Israeli helmet-mounted displays and low-band jammers to towed decoy systems, 10-hour flight data recording and engine capability for “cold start” from high-altitude regions like Ladakh.
They also include Israeli litening pods for target acquisition and guidance kits for Spice precision-guided munitions, which were used to bomb the JeM facility at Balakot in Pakistan on 26 February last year.