The first batch of five Rafale jets, which are part of the first consignment of 36 jets, took off on Monday morning from Merignac air base in France where they were built. The five fighters, including two trainer jets, will hit Indian skies on Wednesday after a stopover at Al Dhafra, a French Air Force base in the UAE.
Merignac is the facility of Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale jets.
These jets are being flown by a team of Indian Air Force pilots led by Group Captain Harkirat Singh, the first Commanding Officer of 17 Squadron, the resurrected “Golden Arrows” in Haryana’s Ambala, the first air base of Rafale fighters. The second squadron of Rafale jets will be raised in Hashimara in West Bengal.
The entire 7,000 km long journey of the fighter jets is planned in two legs. In the first leg, these fighters will be given air-to-air refuelling by French Air Force’s refueller tanker jets.
“Air-to-air refuelling planned during the first leg of the ferry will be undertaken by these pilots with dedicated tanker support from the French Air Force,” says the IAF. The French Air Force will provide its support till Al Dhafra air base. From Al Dhafra to Ambala, IAF’s IL -78 fuel tanker aircraft will provide mid-air refuelling to jets.
Till date, 12 pilots of the IAF have undergone comprehensive training on the aircraft, while the next batch is presently being trained in France. In October last, during the visit of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to France, four Rafale jets were handed over to the IAF. So far, nine jets have been handed over by Dassault Aviation and the tenth jet is in the trail stage.
The IAF’s order of 36 Rafale jets from France, with India-specific enhancements, at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore was signed in September 2017 as emergency purchase in view of the declining combat strength of the force. The delivery of the total 36 Rafale jets is expected to be completed by May 2022. The IAF is down with 31 squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 43 squadrons to meet its two-front (China and Pakistan) challenge.
The IAF has deferred its official induction ceremony for the first batch of Rafale jets, as it feels that the requirement now is to ensure pilots and ground crew put their heads down and become integrated with overall IAF operations “at the earliest”. The IAF is planning to deploy these fighters in Ladakh sector within a week in view of the on-going border tension with China.
Hence, the crew involved in are kept away from media glare. “It is essential that the ferry-in of fighters as well as move of support crew is completed safely and swiftly for which the station authorities are required to devote their undivided attention to the mission at hand,” IAF sources say.
Aiming to deploy on border with China, the IAF has done the last minute purchase of Hammer or Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range for the Rafale jets to make the fighter jets more lethal. Hammer is rocket-enabled air-to-ground precision missile that has a range of 60 km perfectly suited for high altitude operations. The IAF had planned to equip the Rafale jets with SPICE-2000 munition. The Israeli-made Spice 2000 was used by IAF’s Mirage fighter jets to bomb Balakot terror camp in Pakistan in February last year.
Rafale jets, which has the cold engine start capability, can operate from high-altitude airbases including Leh. The weapon package of the fighter, provided by MBDA, makes it the “game changer”. The package, which include Meteo BVR air-to-air missile, SCALP cruise missile and MICA, gives India an edge over its adversaries.
The most critical of these weapons is the Meteor, a beyond visual range air-to-air missile, which is widely recognised as a game changer for air combat. The Meteor is powered by a unique rocket-ramjet motor that gives it an engine power much longer than any other missile. This means it can fly faster, fly longer, and manoeuvre more than any other missile—giving Meteor the ability to chase down and destroy agile hostile fighters at even the furthers of ranges. As a result, Meteor has a no-escape zone many times greater than any other air-to-air missiles.
Explaining about the SCALP deep-strike cruise missile, the MBDA claims that the stealthy weapon has proven repeatedly in combat its unerring ability to strike hardened and protected targets deep inside hostile territory—without the need for the Rafale to enter hostile airspace. SCALP’s operational effectiveness is the result of three key factors: its high survivability thanks to its long stand-off range and low observability and sophisticated mission planning system; its pinpoint terminal accuracy through its highly accurate seeker and target recognition system; and its terminal effectiveness provided by its powerful tandem warhead and multiple detonation modes, the MBDA says.
Then comes the MICA, a missile the IAF knows very well as it is also part of the upgrade package for the Mirage 2000 aircraft. MICA is the only missile in the world featuring two interoperable seekers (active radar and imaging infrared) to cover the spectrum from close-in dogfight to long beyond visual range. Its ability to fly out to BVR in passive mode before the seeker locks on in the final stages of the end game has earned it the nickname “silent killer” as the target will have little time to react or to deploy effective countermeasures.
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