India gets first 5 of 36 Rafale Jets - why a game changer?

The first batch of 5 Rafale fighters (3 single and a couple of twin-seat) has landed at the Ambala airbase. The fighter jets were escorted by two Sukhoi Su 30MKI as they entered the Indian airspace and were greeted by an Indian Navy warship, INS Kolkata, deployed within the western Arabian Sea. Rafale flown by Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots, reached India after covering a distance of 7,000 km or about 4,350 miles with air-to-air refueling and one stop in the United Arab Emirates. 

Rafale fighter jet

They will officially be inducted into the Golden Arrows No 17 squadron of the IAF. India’s contract for 36 Rafale fighters features a cost of around $8.721 billion and it's alleged to receive all the jets by 2022. In this article, Defense Talks analyze why India’s French-made Rafale will actually be a nightmare for Pakistan & China? Let’s get into the details. 

OVERVIEW AND CAPABILITIES

The Dassault Rafale may be a French twin-engine, canard-delta wing, multirole fighter equipped with a good range of weapons. Rafale literally meaning "gust of wind", and "burst of fire" during a more military sense. It is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and deterrence missions. 

The Rafale is mentioned as an "omnirole" aircraft by Dassault. The aircraft is out there in three main variants: Rafale C single-seat land-based version, Rafale B twin-seat land-based version, and Rafale M single-seat carrier-based version. Rafale is one of the most sophisticated 4.5 generation fighters and is very close to a 5th generation one. 

  1. The capabilities are as follows: 1The Rafale is fitted with two Snecma M88 engines, each capable of providing up to 50 kilonewtons (11,000 pounds-force) of dry thrust and 75 kN (17,000 pounds-force) with afterburners. This enables the jet to supercruise at Mach 1.4. 
  2. The thrust to weight ratio one of the best in the category - similar to Eurofighter Typhoon but better than F 35s. This makes it an excellent dogfighter. 
  3. It has sensor fusion - that is unlike a typical 4th generation fighter and more like a 5th generation one - Rafale has the ability to process all the data from different sensors and present it in single a screen enabling the pilot enabling take quick and accurate actions. 
  4. Dassault Rafale is fitted with an RBE2-AA radar system which is a lively electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system derived from the Rafale's RBE2 radar. The radar is reported to deliver a detection range of greater than 200 km or 125 miles for a fighter-sized target and has improved reliability. 
  5. As per French combat doctrine, Rafale is expected to move into heavily defended air space without needing enemy air defenses to be degraded first. For this, Rafale features an integrated defensive-aids system named SPECTRA, which protects the aircraft against airborne and ground threats. Various methods of detection, jamming, and decoying are incorporated. This is considered one of the best in the world. It is to be noted that 30% of the cost of the entire aircraft has been devoted to the radar and self-protection equipment. 
  6. Although not really a stealth aircraft, the Rafale was designed for a reduced radar cross-section (RCS) and infrared signature. In order to scale back the RCS, changes from the initial technology demonstrator include a discount within the size of the tail-fin, fuselage reshaping, repositioning of the engine air inlets underneath the aircraft's wing, and the extensive use of composite materials and serrated patterns for the construction of the trailing edges of the wings and canards. 
  7. The fighter has a range of 1,850 km or 1,150 mi, 1,000 nmi with 3 drop tanks. This enables the fighter to carry out long-distance missions. 8. The Rafale is typically outfitted with 14 hard-points except for the 'M' variant which has 13. It has an external load capacity of 9 tons enabling it to carry out a decent weapons load. 


AIR-TO-AIR ARMAMENTS

Indian Rafales will be equipped with MICA IR or EM short & medium range missile. MICA developed by MBDA is an anti-air multi-target, all-weather, fire-and-forget missile. It is fitted with a thrust vector control (TVC) system and has a range of 80 km or around 50 miles. It is a very versatile missile- on 11 June 2007, a MICA launched from a Rafale successfully demonstrated its over-the-shoulder capability by destroying a target behind the launch aircraft. 

The target was designated by another aircraft and coordinates were transmitted by Link 16. India is acquiring Meteor missile for BVR or Beyond Visual Range combat. Meteor missile is developed by MBDA and is based on the requirement derived from 6 nations. It has a range of 150 km or 93 miles. It is capable of engaging fast agile jets to small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as well as cruise missiles in extreme weather conditions. 

Meteor has excellent aerodynamics and propulsion performance enabling it to tug off intense turn angles when pursuing an agile target sort of a modern super maneuverable fighter. The missile has a no-escape zone of 60 km or about 38 miles which is the largest for a missile of this category. Meteor is actually considered to the best BVR missile against fighter jets. 

Rafale carries the 30 mm GIAT 30 revolver cannon and has 135 rounds which are enough for 6-8 bursts. Indian Rafale will be equipped with SCALP missile which is an Anglo-French low-observable air-launched cruise missile, developed since 1994 by Matra and British Aerospace, and now manufactured by MBDA The missile has a range of approximately 560 km or 350 mi or 304 nmi, is powered by a turbojet at Mach 0.8 It is essentially meant to take out high-value targets like airfields, bunkers and command and command & control center from standoff range. 

The missile can evade enemy air defense units with its ground-hugging trajectory. Reports indicate India has decided to acquire HAMMER in view of the ongoing border tensions with China since the integration and trial of the Israeli-developed SPICE 2000 bombs were taking too long. HAMMER is a French Precision-Guided Munition developed by Safran Electronics & Defense. It comprises a frontal guidance kit and a rear-mounted range extension kit matched to a dumb bomb. It has a range of 60 km or around 38 miles in ideal conditions.

ANALYSIS

Air superiority is key to any modern-day battle scenario so these jets have a very important role to play in a potential conflict. Readers may note that on 27th Feb, a day after the bombing of the JeM terrorist training facility in Pakistan by the Indian Air Force, a short air battle ensued between Indian and Pakistani fighters.

The Indian Sukhoi-30MKIs and other jets that were scrambled to intercept the incoming Pakistani fighters had found it difficult to engage the F-16s as they were outranged. The Pakistani F-16s were armed with the AIM-120C advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), which have a range of about 105 km or around 65 miles whereas the Indian fighters had Russian made R77 that has a range of around 80 km or around 50 miles.

Rafale with Meteor will mitigate this kind of situation in the future and will also be a more than a match for anything China can throw at India when it comes to air to air combat. SCALP will enable IAF to knockout almost any Pakistani targets without leaving Indian air space and carry out standoff strikes even against Chinese targets that are protected by the Russian S 400 air defense system which has an engagement envelop of 400 km or 250 miles. Clearly, Rafale will be a game-changer for the Indian Air Force in the future and it will have massive implications. It remains to be seen if India acquires another 36 to further augment the air-power.

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