The first batch of five French Rafale fighter jets landed in Ambala today, after their 7000-km long journey to India from the Merignac airbase in France’s Bordeaux, exponentially enhancing the Indian Air Force’s combat capabilities.
The five aircraft covered a distance of nearly 7000 km from France to India with air-to-air refuelling and a single stop in the United Arba Emirates. These five include three single-seater and two twin-seater aircraft.
Of the 10 Rafale jets handed over to India, five have landed in India today, while the other five will stay back for a training mission.
These five Rafale fighter jets resurrect the Number 17 Golden Arrows squadron of the Indian Air Force.
It will take the IAF’s squadron strength to 31. When all the 36 Rafale jets are delivered by 2022, it will take it to 32 squadrons, still well below the 42 squadrons of the sanctioned strength.
The delivery of all 36 aircraft will be completed by the end of 2021.
The timing of the arrival of these 4.5 generation, highly advance Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft is extremely critical in light of the border standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
How many Rafale fighter jets will India get?
India has contracted 36 Rafale multi-role fighter jets from France in fly-away condition with 13 India Specific Enhancements (ISE) under a Euro 7.87 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in September 2016.
Out of the 36 Rafale jets, 30 will be fighter jets and six will be trainers. The trainer jets will be twin-seater and they will have almost all the features of the fighter jets.
The weapon systems that give the Rafale an edge over other fighter aircraft in the region have already been delivered to India, ahead of the fighters.
How much does the Rafale cost?
India had signed an agreement with France for the procurement of 36 Rafale jets at a cost of about Rs 59,000 crore, which is approximately Rs 1,639 crore per jet.
What is special about the Rafale jet?
The Rafale is a modern fighter jet known for its agility, speed, weapon holding capacity and attack capability. The Dassault Rafale has a delta wing design and is capable of g-forces as high as 11g (in case of emergency). The Rafale is available in both single and dual seating cabin (India ordered 28 single and 8 dual seater Rafale).
Equipped with a wide range of weapons, the Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. The Rafale is referred to as an “omnirole” aircraft by Dassault.
Why is Rafale important?
Rafale is a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that is said to boost India’s air dominance exponentially, currently safeguarded by fighter jets like Russia made Sukhoi Su-30MKI and MiG 29, along with French Mirage-2000 and indigenously built HAL Tejas.Nov 14, 2019
Rafale’s weapon systems
Each aircraft has 14 storage stations for weapons.
The Rafale fighter jets come with Meteor, highly advanced air-to-air missiles. The 190-kg missile has a Beyond Visual Range of more than 100 km and can travel at a top speed of Mach 4.
The F16 jets, used by Pakistan, carry the AMRAAM missile, which has a Beyond Visual Range of 75 km.
Rafale can also outperform F16 in dogfights.
The Rafale jets are equipped with SCALP, the air-to-ground long-range deep strike cruise missile with a range over 300 km.
The MICA air-to-air missile on Rafale is for both, close-quarter dogfights and for Beyond Visual Range.
India’s Rafales also have HAMMER (Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range), which is an air-to-ground precision guided missile produced by France’s Safran. HAMMER can be used against bunker-type hardened targets within a range of 70 km.
Wing span: 10.90 mts
Length: 15.30 mts
Height: 5.30 mts
Overall empty weight: 10 tons
External load: 9.5 tons
Maximum take-off weight: 24.5 tons
Fuel (internal): 4.7 tons
Fuel (external): up to 6.7 tons
Ferry Range: 3,700 km
Top Speed: 1.8 Mach at high altitude
Landing ground run: 450 mts (1,500 ft)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft
Where will the Rafale be based in India?
The first squadron of the Rafale aircraft will be deployed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there.
The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
A formal induction ceremony of the aircraft will be held in mid-August.
Rafale jets are likely to be deployed in the Ladakh sector as part of the IAF’s efforts to enhance its operational capabilities along the Line of Actual Control with China in view of the border standoff.
What are Rafale’s cold-start engine?
Specially tailored for the IAF, the Rafale jets have cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases including Leh, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, low-band jammers, Israeli helmet-mounted displays and towed decoys to ward off incoming missiles, the Hindustan Times reported.
The Rafale weapons
The 15.30 metre nose-to-tail long Rafale with a wing span of 10.9 metres each and a height of 5.3 meters is one of the sleekest mean machines.
According to Dassault, the maker of Rafale, the aircraft also possesses ‘close-coupled canards/delta wing configuration’.
The wing design, according to the company, makes it far superior and is a key to its combat performance even at ‘high angle-of-attack’.
Rafale can attain a maximum speed of Mach 1.8/750 kt (2,222.6 km per hour). The Rafale can climb up to 50,000 ft.
The Rafale can fly up to a spectacular range of 3,700 km, which could be further increased by refuelling it mid-air.
The Rafale can carry some of the most advanced weapons available on the planet, including MICA air-to-air ‘Beyond Visual Range’ (BVR) interception, combat and self-defense missiles.
The METEOR very long-range air-to-air missile on board would be a game changer of sort in the South-Asian skies. These missiles would not let enemy aircraft come near the machine or cross its path.
Another addition is the SCALP long-range air-to-land missile, which is a deadly deep strike weapon.
Beside these, Rafale could integrate the AM39 EXOCET anti-ship missile, non-guided as well as laser-guided bombs with different warheads from 500lbs to 2,000 lbs.
Rafale also has best of its class ‘Active Electronically Scanned Array’ radar system. Rafale is the first operational – and so far, the only – European combat aircraft to use an electronic scanning radar.
With more than 30,000 flight hours in operations, Rafale has proven its worth in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria.
The METEOR missiles
METEOR is the next generation of BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
The Meteor is powered by a unique rocket-ramjet motor that gives it far more engine power for much longer than any other missile, said an official.
Besides the missile systems, the Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low-band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems, among others.
Amid ongoing tension with China, the Modi government has reportedly used “emergency powers” to allow Army to procure HAMMAR missiles from France. The missiles will be used to further boost the capabilities of Rafale fighter jets.
The HAMMERs would give India the capability to take out any bunkers or hardened shelters in any type of terrain, including the mountainous locations such as Eastern Ladakh, news agency ANI quoted its sources as saying.
The report stated that in view of the “urgent requirement” for these missiles by the Air Force, the French authorities would be “delivering the systems to India from the existing stock meant for some other customer”.
HAMMER (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) is a medium-range air-to-ground weapon designed and manufactured for the French Air Force and Navy initially. It has the capability to take out any types of targets at the range of around 60-70 km.
Five Rafale would be arriving in India from France on July 29 and their advanced weaponry including the long-range SCALP and Meteor missiles would have reached India before their touchdown, the report further stated.
The first five Rafale fighter aircraft would start arriving in India by July 29 flown, by pilots of the 17 Golden Arrows commanding officer. The delivery of the aircraft was earlier supposed to have been done by May end but this was postponed by two months in view of the Covid-19 situation in both India and France.
The trainers will have the tail numbers of the RB series in honour of the Air Force Chief RKS Bhadauria who played a pivotal role in finalising India’s largest-ever defence deal for 36 Rafale combat aircraft.
The aircraft on their way from France to India would be refuelled by a French Air Force tanker aircraft in the air around Israel or Greece before they make a stopover in the Middle East. India had signed a deal worth over Rs 60,000 crore with France in September 2016 for 36 Rafales to meet the emergency requirements of the Indian Air Force.
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria was the Deputy Chief of Air Staff at that time and headed the Indian negotiation team for the deal which is the biggest ever in monetary terms in India.
Armed with the long-range Meteor air to air missiles and SCALP, the Rafales would give India an edge over both Pakistan and China in terms of air strike capability.
The ANI report further quoted its sources as saying that the air-to-air and the air-to-ground strike capabilities of the Rafale cannot be matched by both China and Pakistan and the aircraft would give India an edge over both the rivals.
Here’s what Meteor brings to air-to-air combat.
Much like the use of the phrase ‘deft diplomacy’ by the foreign policy commentariat, the expression ‘game changer’ is often abused when referring to the acquisition of weapon systems in India, reports India Today.
Not every piece of shiny equipment that is bought is a game changer; in many cases, it is simply an upgrade to an existing capability.
Rafale fighter of the Indian Air Force, the first of which will arrive later this week, is undeniably more than just an upgrade — a game-changer, if you will.
The weapons it packs, among other things, make the Rafele fighter the platform it has evolved into over the last two-and-a-half decades — most of all, MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
What makes Meteor different from other air-to-air missiles?
One, its propulsion system, India Today adds.
Instead of a traditional rocket motor, the Meteor missile uses GmbH’s solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket system, also called ramjet.
The Ramjet propulsion system gives Meteor the ability to throttle its engine (control engine power) during the various stages of its flight towards its target.
The propulsion system in a standard air-to-air missile does not give this option.
This gives the Meteor an edge over a standard air-to-air missile.
‘The ramjet motor [propulsion system] provides the [Meteor] missile with thrust all the way to target intercept, providing the largest No-Escape Zone of any air-to-air missile,’ the literature on the missile on MBAD website reads.
Here’s what this means: when a Meteor missile is fired, it is able to throttle its engine back while it is flying towards its target in the cruise phase.
This saves a lot of its fuel. When the missile reaches close to its target, it throttles up its engine using the saved fuel and enters the terminal phase of its flight in a high-energy state.
In comparison, in a standard air-to-air missile, the propulsion system delivers energy in an unmodulated manner, providing the same amount of thrust over a certain period as it can’t be throttled.
If the target is far, the missile will have less energy in the terminal phase of its flight than the one powered with a ramjet motor.
Being in a high-energy state in the terminal phase helps the missile maneuver easily to counter the evasive tactics of the target it is chasing.
In short, the ramjet-equipped Meteor has greater chances of hitting a target at long ranges than an air-to-air missile using a typical rocket motor.
This capability gives Meteor the largest ‘no-escape zone’ — the area within which the target can’t kinetically avoid being hit or the kill probability is very high.
Two, its communication system.
To hit their targets accurately, missiles need mid-course updates to make corrections to their trajectory.
If the missile has the latest data on the location of its target, the probability of it hitting the target is better than it would be otherwise.
Meteor missiles can receive such updates not only from the fighter it is fired from, but also from “third party” sources like other friendly fighters in the battle zone, airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C), and land and sea-based radars.
This is especially useful when the missile is chasing a target at long range.
Once fired, the missile can depend on AEW&C aircraft or ground-based radar, which can track the target at greater ranges than the fighter which fired it.
The MICA missiles
The IAF’s Rafales will also carry the shorter-range MICA air-to-air missile, which is separately being fitted on to the IAF’s Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft fleet as part of its ongoing upgrade.
MBDA claims the MICA is the world’s only air-to-air missile that features two interoperable seekers (active radar and imaging infrared), allowing the missile to be used in close-in, fighter-to-fighter dogfights as well as in the BVR role.
One of the MICA’s key attributes is its ability, while in the BVR mode, to fly much of the distance to the enemy aircraft in passive mode – i.e., without radiating radar waves, which alert the adversary.
When it approaches the target, the seeker starts radiating only in the final stages when the target has little time to take evasive manoeuvres or to deploy effective countermeasures, newsreports state.
The SCALP deep-strike cruise missile
For striking ground targets, the IAF Rafales will carry the French SCALP deep-strike cruise missile. This stealth weapon has the ability to strike hardened and protected targets deep inside hostile territory from stand-off ranges, i.e., without the need for the Rafale to enter hostile airspace, which could be heavily defended with air defence missiles.
The SCALP has the capability to create havoc at the target end due to its powerful tandem warhead and multiple detonation modes.