Defence minister Rajnath Singh readies for a sortie in the first Rafale jet formally handed over to India at the Dassault factory in Mérignac, France, on Tuesday.  (Photo: AP)
Defence minister Rajnath Singh readies for a sortie in the first Rafale jet formally handed over to India at the Dassault factory in Mérignac, France, on Tuesday. (Photo: AP)

India takes delivery of first Rafale fighter jet

  • The induction of the Rafale is critical for the IAF, which is set to decommission the MiG-21 Bison aircraft
  • India is the fourth country after France, Egypt and Qatar, to fly the Rafale. India signed a €7.87-million deal in 2016 with France to buy the 36 planes

New Delhi: India received its first French-made Rafale fighter jet on Tuesday, in one of the biggest-ever boosts to its deterrence capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan and China.

The aircraft—the first of 36 ordered by India—was received by defence minister Rajnath Singh on a day the Indian Air Force (IAF) celebrated its 87th founding day.

Singh, who arrived in Paris on Monday, later travelled to Bordeaux in south-western France to the Mérignac facility of Dassault Aviation SA, the maker of the Rafale, for the formal handover event. He was joined by French defence minister Florence Parly and several senior officials. After the handover, Singh also flew a sortie in the aircraft.

The first jet will, however, be seen over Indian skies only in May next year.

India is the fourth country after France, Egypt and Qatar, to fly the Rafale. India signed a €7.87-million deal in 2016 with France to buy the 36 planes. Its deliveries are to be completed within 67 months of the signing of the pact.

Watch: Rajnath Singh flies in Rafale after taking delivery of the jet for IAF

IAF chief R.K.S. Bhadauria referred to the Rafale in his speech at the Hindon air force base on IAF’s founding day.

Soon after taking charge on 30 September, Bhadauria said the induction of the Rafale would be a “game changer" for the IAF.

“The Indian Air Force is on the path of rapid modernization through acquisition of crucial technologies and critical capabilities such as the Rafale fighter aircraft, S-400 surface-to-air missile (defence system from Russia), precision weapons, advanced electronics and early warning systems, to name a few," he said.

Singh at the assembly line of Rafale fighter jets at the Dassault Aviation factory in Mérignac, France, on Tuesday.
Singh at the assembly line of Rafale fighter jets at the Dassault Aviation factory in Mérignac, France, on Tuesday. (Photo: AP)

The comment comes as most of the aircraft in the IAF’s inventory, including the Dassault-made Mirage 2000 and the Russian-built Su-30MKI, are classified as either third- or fourth-generation fighters. The Rafale is categorized as fourth generation-plus fighter thanks to its radar-evading stealth capability, according to defence analysts.

“The induction of the Rafale will improve our deterrence capabilities manifold. When deterrence improves, chances of conflict will diminish," said P.S. Ahluwalia, a retired IAF air marshal.

The Rafale’s strength lies in its advanced radar and an array of Meteor, Scalp and Mica missiles, besides 13 India-specific enhancements, the analysts said.

The Rafale’s “RBE2 active electronically scanned array radar" allows for early detection and tracking of multiple air targets and generates three-dimensional maps of the terrain over which the jet is flying in real time. The Meteor is a next-generation beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) that can hit a wide range of targets with pinpoint accuracy. The Scalp missile is a long-range (300km), air-launched, stand-off attack missile aimed at targeting high-value stationary assets such as airbases, radar installations, communications hubs and port facilities. The Mica is also a BVRAAM with unique stealth interception capability.

The India-specific enhancements include helmet mounted sights and targeting systems to give pilots the ability to shoot weapons at lightning-quick speed. It has decoy systems to thwart incoming missiles besides modifications in the fuel starter system that will enable the aircraft’s engine to operate at optimum levels even at high-altitude air bases such as Leh.

“Equipped with a wide range of weapons, the Rafale would perform air supremacy, interdiction, deep strike, anti-ship strike and be the strategic delivery platform for the nuclear deterrence air missions. The Meteor BVRAAM missile with over 180km range would have a no-escape zone of over 60km," said Anil Chopra, a retired IAF air marshal.

The induction of the Rafale is critical for the IAF, which is set to decommission the MiG-21 Bison aircraft and is already down to just over 30 squadrons, far less than the sanctioned 42 required for a two-front war against Pakistan and China.

Most of the jets in Pakistan’s inventory comprise US-made F-16s besides some Chinese-made JF-17s. China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force has over 600 fourth generation and fourth generation-plus jets. China is also developing the fifth generation J-20 in competition with the US’s fifth-generation fighter jets such as F-22 and F-35 made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

“The Rafale is many leagues better than the F-16s and the JF-17s in terms of range, armaments and electronic warfare capability," said Manmohan Bahadur, a former IAF air vice marshal, and who is currently additional director general at New Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies think tank.

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