F-16V, F-15, Rafale, Eurofighter: India Assembling World’s Best Warplanes For Air Drills Amid China Threats

After being locked in a fierce competition to win a tender for the Indian Air Force (IAF), French Rafale and German Eurofighter fighter jets are expected to conduct joint war drills in the Indian skies to assert dominance over China.

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The IAF conducted two major wargames in 2024, which will be followed by a multinational exercise, ‘Tarang Shakti,’ the first to be held in India.

The rise of an assertive China has brought together like-minded countries to pursue greater military cooperation. India, which has been embroiled in a standoff with China since 2020, has increased air exercises with foreign countries.

‘Tarang Shakti’ (Power of Waves) is the culmination of the friendships initiated in the air domain over the last few years. A dozen friendly countries, including the US, Germany, France, and Australia, are expected to take part in the war games. Six countries will contribute air assets, whereas six others will participate as observers.

Germany and France are expected to join the wargame with Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale fighter jets reflectively.

Both Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale had emerged as the top contenders in the IAF’s quest for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). They were found to be compliant with all the India-specific requirements set by the IAF in 2012.

Eurofighter Typhoons of the German Air Force 30-23
Eurofighter Typhoons of the German Air Force

Following a slew of tests, they scored over the American F-16, F/A-18, and Swedish Gripen. Negotiations began with Rafale due to the lower price offered then.

In 2018, months before India signed the deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in 2016, the Indian government had passed another European offer that promised deliveries of the Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft to IAF. Many experts argued that a ‘dependable’ France was a much better option than an ‘unreliable’ Germany.

The European consortium manufacturing the Eurofighter Typhoon fought hard to win the tender to supply fighter jets for the IAF.  However, the process for which the IAF set the ball rolling in 2007 was set aside as the IAF bought 36 Rafale aircraft through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with the French government.

Hence, the German Air Force’s confirmation that it will be coming to India for the first time for a joint exercise with its Spanish and French counterparts has evoked a huge buzz among military observers and experts alike. Phase I of the Tarang Shakti will take place from August 6 to 14.

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“Germany and other European countries are very interested in cooperating more closely with the world’s most populous democracy, in part, observers say, because of China’s expansionist behavior,” the European media has been reporting.

The rematch between Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale fighter jets in the Indian skies is much awaited. The IAF’s tender for the acquisition of Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) is still ongoing, even though the Indian government has been emphasizing ‘Make in India’ and is yet to give Acceptance of Necessity for the acquisition.

The US has yet to announce the aircraft it will be sending for the mega drills. The USAF is expected to send its F-16V and F-15EX, both of which are also MRFA competitors. The presence of the fifth-generation fighter jet F-35 A has not been ruled out.

The IAF floated the Request for Information in 2018 and received responses from eight aircraft types. The leading contenders in the fray are Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s F-15EX, and Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen.

Tarang Shakti will be the culmination of the IAF’s efforts to ensure heightened operational readiness for extended periods. ‘Gaganshakti, the 10-day wargames, is testing the IAF’s ability to take on Pakistan and China simultaneously. Gaganshakti-2024 is bigger than its last iteration, which took place in 2018.

From April 1, 2024, onwards, almost the entire air fleet will be activated from north to south and from west to east to test integrated war-fighting strategies and tactics in conjunction with the Indian Army and the Indian Navy.

Rafale fighter jet. Credits: NATO

IAF’s Foreign Sojourns

The IAF has increased participation in foreign wargames to increase interoperability with friendly air forces across the world.

The IAF’s Rafale went on their first overseas wargames in 2023 when they participated in Exercise Orion at Mont-de-Marsan, an Air Force base of the French Air and Space Force (FASF). The IAF contingent comprised four Rafale, two C-17s, two ll-78 aircraft, and 165 air warriors. This was the first overseas exercise for the IAF’s Rafale aircraft.

The IAF also participated in air exercises INIOCHOS, hosted by the Hellenic Air Force, in which four Su-30 MKI and two C-17 aircraft were deployed.

In 2023, the USAF came to India with its B1 Bomber jets and F-15 fighter aircraft for Exercise Cope India in Kalaikunda, Panagarh, and Agra.

The IAF deployed five MiG-29 combat jets, six transport aircraft, and a group of its special force personnel at a 21-day multilateral war game in Egypt. In the biennial tri-service exercise, Bright Star saw participation from forces from the US, Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Qatar.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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