It has been 35 years since the first French Dassault Rafale fighter jet took to the skies. Over the years, the twin-engine “omnirole” combat aircraft has been in service with many air forces in the world, including India.
India acquired its first batch of Dassault Rafales amid the border standoff with China last year. Experts had stated that if the Indian Air Force (IAF) had Rafales in its possession in 2019, it would have destroyed half of Pakistan’s fighter fleet post-Balakot conflict.
On February 26, 2019, IAF jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to drop bombs on a terrorist camp in Pakistan’s Balakot area. The episode brought the two nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war.
In the wake of the Balakot airstrikes, former IAF chief A.Y. Tipnis had stated in March 2019, that the French Rafale fighters may have been successful in destroying approximately half of the Pakistani jets.
The aim of the 24 Pakistani jets was to attack Srinagar, Awantipora base. If India had had Rafale at that time, the IAF would have destroyed at least 12 of them, Air Marshal Tipnis had stated that time.
Sixteen Indian fighter jets managed to cross into Pakistan-administered Kashmir, dropping Israeli-made Spice 2000 bombs on a terrorist camp in Balakot. In response, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had deployed as many as 24 fighter jets, including JF-17 and F-16s.
35 Years Of Rafale Jets
4th July 2021 marked the 35 years since France’s prestigious Rafale fighter jets saw their first flight, with the aircraft today forming the backbone of the French Air Force.
Manufactured by the French aerospace giant Dassault Aviation, the Rafale fighter jets considered as one the most advanced and reliable warplanes in the world today. Rafale is also France’s third fourth-gen fighter aircraft after the Mirage 2000 and the Mirage 4000 (later disbanded).
Comparisons With F-16s
Whether the Rafale would have effectively engaged and countered the PAF’s F-16s is a question that has been debated many times in the past two years. In an earlier report, The EurAsian Times mentioned that both the jets have their own areas of strengths, but a 4.5 generation Rafale certainly had many advantages over an aging F-16.
The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base. The fully versatile Rafale is able to carry out all combat aviation missions: air superiority and air defense, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence, according to the Dassault Aviation website.
In terms of size, the two fighter jets are almost similar. The Rafale has a wingspan of 10.90 meters, slightly greater than the US-made F-16’s 9.96 meters. The Rafale aircraft is 15.30 meters long compared to the 15.06-meter-long F-16.
The F-16s register a slight edge over the Rafales when the striking capabilities of the two jets are compared. The range of the F-16 is 4220 kms, while that of the Rafales is approximately 3700 kms.
While the service ceiling of both aircraft is 50,000 feet, the F-16s can fly faster than their French counterpart. The maximum speed of the Rafale aircraft is 2,130 kmph while that of the F-16s is 2,414 kmph.
In comparison, the Lockheed Martin-General Dynamics-developed F-16s are equipped with AIM- 9 sidewinder short-range air to air missiles, AIM-120 medium-range air to air missiles, GPS guided monks, internal 20 mm Vulcan cannon, among others.
Rafale Jets – Nuclear Payload
In 2019, India’s Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria had called the induction of the Rafale fighter jets by India as a “game-changer” in the regional geopolitics of South Asia, at least with regards to Pakistan.
The Air Chief Marshal had also pointed out the fact that the induction of the jets will strengthen the combat capabilities of the Indian Air Force significantly.
Some India-specific modifications that may be added include Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, flight data recording of up to 10 hours as well as infrared search and tracking systems, the report said.
According to the former Indian ambassador to France Rakesh Sood, the French accepted India’s plans to modify the Rafale jets to make it a part of India’s nuclear triad. “One reason for the political decision in favor of France’s Rafale was because the French had no problem with the Rafale being modified to carry a nuclear payload“.
The other contenders for the bid for the fighter jets included the Eurofighter Typhoon, a four-nation fighter program. And getting clearances for the nuclear payload for the Eurofighter Typhoon would have been very tough, a factor which may have prompted New Delhi to go with the French Rafale.
The Rafale is also expected to boost India’s air power in the event of border escalations in the Himalayas. Last year, former Air Chief BS Dhanoa had said that the Rafale can provide India a strategic advantage in the case of an aerial skirmish with China in the high-altitude regions.
Dhanoa told Hindustan Times that the Rafale jets coupled with soon-to-be-acquired S-400 missile systems would provide a major combat edge to the country vis-a-vis China.
He also mentioned that “Rafale has got a fantastic Electronic Warfare (EW) suite (SPECTRA), fantastic weapons and therefore are capable of protecting themselves electronically besides being able to use the terrain to their advantage”.
According to the former Air Chief, Rafales will be able to play a significant role in DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defence) on the surface-to-air missiles of the Chinese which have reportedly been positioned in Tibet.
Rafale Vs JF-17
It seems that the news of India’s induction of the Rafale jets has been closely followed by Chinese observers.
A Chinese news and blogging website, Sohu, conceded that the Rafales are much more advanced in comparison to the Chinses-Pakistani JF-17s. The multi-role JF-17 fighter has been developed in collaboration with the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC).
Pakistan boasts over 100 JF-17 fighter jets in its arsenal. The fighter jet has been a replacement for the older combat aircraft of the Pakistan Air force, such as the A-5C, F-7P/PG, Mirage III and Mirage V, according to The EurAsian Times.
It is believed that the JF-17 can conduct interception, ground attacks, anti-ship and aerial reconnaissance missions effectively. Regardless of the above features of the JF-17, the Chinese experts told Sohu that the acquisition of the Rafale jets increased the pressure on Pakistan, and that “the Rafale is one of the most advanced fighters in the world. Pakistan does not know its actual capabilities, so it is a little uncertain”.
Nitin J Ticku, a strategic and defense expert reiterated the statements of Air Marshal Tipnis and told The EurAsian Times – The Rafale jets undoubtedly are a game-changer against both Pakistan and China.
When both Rafale jets and S-400 missiles are fully inducted, India would easily have the most powerful airforce in the whole of Asia and both the regional foes would avoid an aerial skirmish with the Indian Air Force.
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