By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: In a strong message to China and Pakistan, India plans to operationalise five more of the French-origin Rafale jets in a squadron in Ambala within the next two months, to boost the air force’s deep strike, strategic capabilities.
The five new Rafale jets will arrive to join the five aircraft that were operationalised in a formal induction ceremony in Ambala today. In a couple of tweets, the Indian Air Force (IAF) welcomed the “new bird” into its fleet.
These five additional Rafales were already delivered to India in France by the manufacturer Dassault Aviation, but were retained to train the Indian pilots, according to Indian government officials with knowledge of the matter.
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years since the Sukhoi Su-30s jets were bought from Russia in 1997.
Dassault Aviation is scheduled to deliver all 36 Rafales ordered for over $8 billion in 2016 by the end of 2021 and of these, six will be twin-seater trainer variants.
Acknowledging the strong message the Rafale induction sends to India’s arch rivals in the region, Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh used the occasion to indirectly warn China over its belligerence in eastern Ladakh, where its army is in a bloody confrontation with the Indian soldiers along the Line of Actual Control.
Stern Warning to China
“It is a strong message for the entire world, especially those eyeing India’s sovereignty,” Rajnath Singh said in his address at the induction ceremony. He said the Rafale jets induction was crucial, considering the kind of atmosphere being created along India’s borders.
The Indian defence minister’s stern warning comes just weeks after a meeting with General Wei Fenghe, State Councillor and Defence Minister of China, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Moscow. There too, Singh had told General Wei that China should have no doubt over India’s determination to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“The actions of the Chinese troops, including amassing of large number of troops, their aggressive behaviour and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo were in violation of the bilateral agreements and not in keeping with the understandings reached between the Special Representatives of two sides,” Rajnath Singh had said then.
This message from Ambala comes at a time when India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are expected to meet on the margins of a SCO conclave, this too in Moscow.
Accompanied by the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly at the Rafale induction, the Rajnath Singh said India’s responsibility is not limited to its territorial boundary, and that it is committed to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, the two regions where China has been wading into territorial rows with its neighbours in deliberate, aggressive moves.
“This (Rafale) kind of induction is very important for the kind of atmosphere that has been created on our borders in recent times,” the Indian defence minister said, in a clear reference to the over four-month-long confrontation that’s been growing in eastern Ladakh.
He also complimented the IAF for its “swift action” near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during a “recent unfortunate incident”. He, however, did not elaborate on what the action was.
“The speed at which IAF deployed assets on forward bases creates confidence,” he said. “While prevailing situation on our border caught our attention, we should not ignore the threat of terrorism,” he added.
India’s Edge in the Region
Parly, in her address, said India will have an edge over the entire region in defending its people with the induction of Rafale fighters. She said India and France were writing a new chapter in defence ties with these new assets joining the IAF.
She said the programme to deliver the 36 Rafale aircraft to India meant a lot. “In military terms, it means that India will acquire a world-class capability, truly among the best in the world that would give your air force an incredible sovereign tool. In strategic terms, it means India will have an edge over the entire region to defend itself and protect its people.”
‘Rafale’ literally means a ‘gust of wind’ or a ‘burst of fire’. “Both meanings express an incredible strength,” she said. “It is also a symbol of the strong ties between two countries.”
Supporting ‘Make in India‘, Parly said, “we are fully committed to the initiative as well as to the further integration of Indian manufacturers into our (French) global supply chains.”
‘Make in India’ has been a reality for the French industry for several years, particularly for defence equipment like submarines. “Many French companies and design offices are now established in India and now, I hope that others will come to offer their support and services,” she said.
Speaking on the occasion, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R. K. S. Bhadauria said the induction of Rafale jets could not have happened at a more opportune time considering the security scenario.
“MBDA has built a close partnership over 50 years with India’s armed forces. We are very proud to be equipping the IAF’s Rafales with a full comprehensive weapon package that includes the game-changing Meteor and MICA air-to-air missiles and the SCALP cruise missile to conduct deep strike missions in a complex and severe environment,” MBDA Chief Executive Officer Eric Beranger said at the induction ceremony.
Defence.Capital’s Quick Take:
French Dassault Aviation’s Rafale will be a game changer for India by its sheer technological superiority over the combat jets that arch rivals China and Pakistan have.
Weapons such as the Meteor, the Scalp and the MICA missiles from the European MBDA stable provide Rafale with beyond visual range, air-to-air and ground attack capabilities that are unmatched by the aircraft currently in China’s or Pakistan’s fleet. India is also making emergency purchases of the Hammer air-to-ground precision-guided weapon system for the Rafales.
Coupled with its Electronic Warfare suite, Rafale brings the added advantage of deep, strategic strike capabilities.
In an air battle over the Himalayas, China may have to deploy five to 10 aircraft to each Rafale due to the obsolescence in its fleet. China may still have the numbers for such a large deployment, but it will be limited by the take-off altitude of its jets from air bases in occupied Tibet or from occupied East Turkestan (Xinjiang).
Ultimately, be it a dog fight or other wise, it will be the aircraft’s overall capabilities that will matter in a net centric air battle space, and these capabilities will clearly help decide the war over the skies in India’s favour.