Five India-bound Rafale jets, three single-seater and two twin-seater, landed at Ambala Air Force Station on Wednesday after covering distance of 8,500 km from France. India's defence minister termed the occasion as the beginning of a new era in the country’s military history.
The Indian Air Force has called the jets a game-changer amid its ongoing confrontation with China on the northern border. Here are some features of the Rafale jets that have shifted India’s technological balance as part of its modernisation programme:
The 4.5 generation Rafale are combat proven, as they have been used by the French Air Force for its missions in Afghanistan, Libya, and Mali. It has also been used in missions in the Central African Republic, Iraq, and Syria. The Rafale can also carry more fuel and weapons. With border tensions in the Ladakh region, this gives India an edge over China’s J20 Chengdu jets.
The aircraft also integrate a "cold engine start" feature that enables them to be operated at high-altitude airbases like the one near the border with China.
Due to the lack of long-range weapons and sensors, the Indian Air Force has been vulnerable when it comes to its air defence. With its multi-role capabilities, including electronic warfare, air defence, ground support, and in-depth strikes, Rafale has a range of between 780 and 1,055km, compared to the 400 to 550km of the Su30MKI.
With this, India is able to engage Pakistani or Chinese aircraft at greater distances without the risk of being tracked.
Advanced Missile Capabilities
The Rafale integrates the Meteor (beyond-visual-range) air-to-air missile, the SCALP cruise missile, as well as MICA. The Ramjet powered Meteor missile is currently the longest range air to air missile in operation and its lethality can be gauged by the fact that it can maintain consistent high speeds till it hits the target. The SCALP deep-strike cruise missile, characterised by its long stand-off range (560km) and pinpoint precision, will enable India's fighters to engage highly protected targets deep inside enemy territory without actually entering hostile airspace.
The Rafale jets, which are equipped with a camera capable of taking high-resolution images from thousands of feet up in the air, come with India-specific modifications, such as Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, and infrared search and tracking systems, among others.