File photo: Reuters
File photo: Reuters

India’s air power set to take wing as Rafale flies in

Mint takes a look at the unique features of the aircraft—the first four of which will be seen over Indian skies in May 2020—and what its purchase means for India

Defence minister Rajnath Singh will take delivery of the first French-built Rafale fighter aircraft on Tuesday. Mint takes a look at the unique features of the aircraft—the first four of which will be seen over Indian skies in May 2020—and what its purchase means for India.

What are the unique features of the Rafale?

The Rafale’s “delta wings" make it exceptionally stable at supersonic speeds. It is a “fly-by-wire" aircraft, with a computer operating the flight control surfaces. The Rafale’s engine allows throttle to be shifted from combat power to idle power, and back to combat power, in less than three seconds. It is immune to radar jamming and can covertly detect and identify targets on the air, sea and ground at long-range. The fighter jet’s “active electronically scanned array radar" enables early detection and tracking of multiple air targets and generates real-time 3D maps of the terrain over which it is flying.

What are its other specifications?

The Rafale can fly at speeds of 1.8 mach (2,222.6km per hour) and can climb to a height of 50,000 feet. It has a range of 3,700km, which can be increased with mid-air refuelling. The fighter jet is 15.27 metres long from nose to tail, has a wing span of 10.8 metres and a wing surface area of 45.7 square metres. It can carry 9,500kg of bombs and munitions. This is more than the Sukhoi 30 MK1, which can carry loads of up to 8,000kg, say military experts. France has promised to ensure that at least 75% of the Rafale fleet is combat-worthy at any given point, failing which, heavy penalties will be invoked.

When was the deal for the aircraft signed?

India signed a €7.87-million deal in 2016 with France to buy 36 Rafale jets. Its deliveries are to be completed within 67 months of the signing of the pact. The decision to acquire 36 aircraft in fly-away condition came as the IAF’s squadron strength dipped to 30-32—significantly short of the sanctioned 42 required to fight a two-front war.

What weapons can it be loaded with?

The Rafale can carry the Meteor missile, a next-gen beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile capable of hitting targets that are even 100km away with pinpoint accuracy. It can also carry the SCALP missile, a subsonic air-to-surface missile that can strike stationary assets. The MICA—which, too, is a beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile with stealth interception capability—is also expected to be fitted on the Rafale. The aircraft has a cannon that can fire 2,500 rounds per minute. It is also capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

What are the India-specific features?

There are 13 India-specific enhancements ordered by the IAF, including helmet-mounted sights and targeting systems that will give pilots lightning-quick ability to fire and a decoy system to thwart incoming missiles. The fighter will also have a radar warning receiver to identify hostile tracking systems. There will be modifications in the fuel starter system so that the engine can operate at an optimum even at sub-zero high-altitude air bases such as Leh. The Rafale for the IAF will also have an advanced infrared search and track sensor.

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