With Rafale, Indian Air Force becomes one of the best
Five French-made multirole Rafales were inducted today into the Indian Air Force’s “Golden Arrows” Squadron at the Ambala Air Force Station, the country’s oldest Air Force base built-in 1919. A Rafale fighter jet flew above the airbase as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart Florence Parly watched it from afar.
Seven more seven Rafale fighter jets will arrive in India by April or May next year. Altogether, France will deliver India 36 fighter planes within 67 months from September 2016, when the Government to Government (G2G) agreement was signed between the two countries at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.
The induction of Rafale makes Indian Air Force one of the most potent and powerful of its types in the world. The IAF had selected it by 660 technical benchmarks. The Rafale’s greatest strength, especially in the air combat arena, is its ability to acquire, process and fuse information from multiple sensors and present it to the pilot in a single tactical display. During its trials, the IAF pilots were said to be greatly impressed by the aircraft’s remarkable cockpit ergonomics and human factors engineering as manifested in its sensors, controls, interfaces, and displays.
Another advantage of the Rafale is that it could be the best platform for India in near future for delivering nuclear weapons against the enemies. Our nuclear doctrine is based on the concept of a triad – delivering weapons from the air (aircraft), ground (missiles such as Prthivi and Agni) and water (submarines such as Arihant). Arihant, however, is not fully functional as yet. Our land-based launchers still need much more rigorous testing regimens to be hundred percent reliable. Therefore, it is an open secret that at the moment the best delivery platforms for nuclear weapons happen to be the French Mirages, which were modified by the Dassault (also the manufacturer of Mirage) in the 1990s at India’s request by keeping nuclear weapons in mind.
According to noted defence analyst Rakesh Krishnan Simha, the Rafale’s greatest strength is that it introduces network-centric warfare capabilities and data-logistics similar to those on fifth-generation stealth jets such as the American F-35, enabling the French jet on patrol to build a more accurate picture of the battle-space by pooling sensors over a secure network, and even exchange data using new satellite communications antenna. As Dassault claims, the Rafale’s “multi-sensor data fusion” provides a link between the battle-space surrounding the aircraft and the pilot with its unique ability to grasp the outcome of tactical situations and make sensible decisions.
Each Rafale will therefore act as a mini AWACS aircraft, passing on to other pilots data about the location of enemy aircraft, air defences and radar coverage, thereby greatly enhancing IAF pilots’ situational awareness. According to military aviation writers such as Sebastien Roblin, the Rafale is much more agile than the F-35 stealth fighter, with superior climb rate, sustained turn performance and the ability to super-cruise (maintain supersonic flight without using fuel-gulping afterburners) at Mach 1.4 while carrying weapons.
Anti-aircraft defences consist of several links – command, control, communication, ground radar, missiles and airborne radar – in a long kill chain. Using its semi-stealthy profile, a wide range of weapons, powerful jammers and 360-degree early-warning capability, the Rafale can snap one or more of these links, and thereby disrupt the enemy’s detection ability, argues Simha.
Once all 36 Rafales are inducted, they could well be the IAF’s interceptor of choice. This is, as Simha says, mainly due to its extreme quick readiness. The aircraft can take off in less than 500 metres (using afterburners) and even while the plane is taxing on the runway, the electronic data link can provide the pilot with all the information needed to intercept the target: the enemy’s aircraft’s position, course and speed. Once airborne, its AESA radar’s sensitivity makes it possible to detect smaller targets and detects them earlier. The Rafale’s SPECTRA radar provides a terrific enhancement to the IAF’s ability to operate in highly ‘dense’ hostile environments where there is a heavy presence of anti-aircraft radars and weapons. SPECTRA not only allows the Rafale to detect and localise a threat against the aircraft but also selects the most effective countermeasures against it. The Rafale would thus also be the ideal aircraft to use against enemy radar networks, anti-aircraft missiles and gun batteries.
The Rafale will also be equipped with the latest SCALP and Meteor missiles, which will outrange all known weapon systems in the region and will give India a definitive combat edge. The SCALP standoff missile has a range of over 300 km and is designed to hit high value, strongly protected targets deep inside enemy territory. The Rafale jets can carry two such missiles that will enable them to hit virtually any target within Pakistan.
Another system that will add to this capability will be the Meteor air to air missile. With a range of over 150 km, the Meteor will outclass all other systems in the region, including the AMRAAM missiles in service with Pakistani F 16 fighter jets.
Rafale’s Mica air-to-air missile, which has a range of 79 km, can be launched without initially being locked and guided remotely by a data link on the fighter before engaging either an infrared or AESA radar seeker to close in for the kill, using a vector-thrust motor to pull off tight manoeuvres. Because both the Rafale and the Mica missile can employ passive infrared targeting without using an indiscrete active-radar for guidance, the Mica can be launched with little warning for the target.
The Rafale fits perfectly into the Indian Air Force’s doctrine of building a multi-spectrum capability through the use of multi-role aircraft. ‘Multi-spectrum capability alludes to the varying nature of tasks that the IAF may be called upon to undertake such as
- Expeditionary interventions to protect island territories and overseas interests
- Protection of territorial waters and sea lanes
- Neutralising Mumbai type attacks by non-state actors deep within Indian territory.
- Localised border wars such as the Kargil conflict of 1999
- Single front full-scale conventional war with China or Pakistan
- Collusive two-front war with China and Pakistan
- Nuclear war
To address multi-spectrum threats, the IAF wants to invest almost exclusively in long-range aircraft that can effectively undertake varied roles – air-defence, tactical attack (interdiction and Close Air Support), and strategic bombing – without the need for an escort fighter or jammer. Based on its evaluation, the IAF believes the Rafale meets its requirement better than any other medium fighter on offer.