Rafale-M Fighters Conduct 4000 Km Simulated Strike On Enemy Targets; Set To Boost Indian Navy’s Firepower

The French Rafale-Marine fighter jets conducted a long-range maritime strike as part of the recent NATO drills, codenamed ‘Neptune Strike,’ hailed as the largest NATO deployment since Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine.

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NATO Maritime Command’s official handle took to Platform X to announce a record maritime strike simulated by French fighter jets. Two Rafale Marines simulated a long-range maritime strike over 4000 kilometers from the Ionian Sea to the Baltic Sea.

They were guided by ATL2 (a long-range maritime patrol aircraft endowed with endurance and maneuverability when flying low over water in pursuit of a submarine) and supported by air refueling from the French Air and Space Forces.

The post was accompanied by photographs showing the aircraft taking off from the deck of the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The stunning display of a very long-range maritime strike has been hailed by military watchers and netizens alike, who expressed their astonishment and pride in the French capability to deal with impending threats.

NATO launched one of its biggest naval deployments since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle taking part in military drills under the NATO Command for the first time. The French carrier and its accompanying vessels were the centerpieces of the maritime strike drills aimed at bolstering integration and interoperability among NATO states.

The French carrier was deployed in the Mediterranean, close to its home port of Toulon. Although specific details were not available for security reasons, Rear Adm. Jacques Mallard, Commander of the French CSG, showed a slide of the Charles De Gaulle carrying an embarked airwing of 18 Rafale M fighters, a land-based Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft, two E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWEC) and two Dauphin helicopters.

NATO described the Neptune Strike (NEST) as a multi-domain and multi-national enhanced vigilance activity. The unscripted maritime exercise honed NATO’s ability to integrate maritime capabilities, including carrier strike groups, to support Allied defense. This made the maritime strike conducted by the Rafale-Ms all the more significant and noteworthy. The mission may have added to the Rafale aircraft’s already skyrocketing popularity.

The Rafale M is a versatile single-seat aircraft designed for a variety of missions. It is capable of quick reaction alerts, air defense, air policing, nuclear deterrence, power projection, external missions, deep strike operations, air support for ground forces, and pilot training sorties.

On its official website, the manufacturer Dassault Aviation notes that the Rafale  “complies with the requirement to carry out the widest range of roles with the smallest number of aircraft.”

The service ceiling, or maximum altitude it can reach under standard air conditions, is 50,000 feet. The Rafale M can conduct air-to-ground and air-to-air attacks in a single mission, with a speed range from less than 120 knots (222.24 km per hour) during an approach to a maximum speed of 750 knots (1,389 mph).

With adequate refueling support, the aircraft has demonstrated its ability to conduct long-range strikes by taking off from anywhere on the sea. This capability may also interest India, which is looking to acquire 26 Rafale Marine combat aircraft from France.

File Photo: Rafale Marine

Rafale Marines To Boost Indian Maritime Capability 

Last year, France received a Letter of Request (LoR) from India to sell Dassault Aviation’s Rafale Marines to the Indian Navy for its aircraft carriers.

The LoR is like a tender document in which the Indian government has outlined all the features and specifications it is looking for in a Rafale Marine aircraft. The cost of the aircraft is also reportedly being worked between the two sides.

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India officially informed France of its intention to purchase 26 Rafale fighter aircraft for the Indian Navy, initiating the inter-governmental framework-based acquisition procedure. However, the two sides have yet to sign an official agreement. Should this deal fructify, France would have sold 62 Rafales to India, including 36 to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The order for the naval variant of the Rafale combat jet could be placed later this year to meet the Indian Navy’s urgent operational requirements. The Indian Navy previously informed the Indian Ministry of Defence of its preference for the French fighter aircraft Rafale Marine over the only other contender, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet.

The Indian Navy Air Arm is looking for a replacement for its aging MiG-29K aircraft, the combat air platform for the Russian-origin INS Vikramaditya, the other operational aircraft carrier. The Rafale-M aircraft will be used aboard India’s indigenously developed aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.

The Indian Navy’s first home-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, entered service in September 2022. However, critical aviation testing for the conventional MiG-29K carrier-based fighter and the home-based LCA Navy began many months ahead of schedule.

India is developing its own Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) aircraft to fulfill its long-term requirement for carrier-based missions. However, the Indian Navy has decided to purchase a new carrier-based fighter jet to meet its short-term needs, as it will take some time for the country’s naval combat aircraft to be developed domestically.

When India and France sign an agreement to purchase Rafale Marine, the Indian Navy will become the country’s first export customer for the carrier-based fighter. Paris has already successfully exported the Air Force variant to several countries, including India.

The recent feat accomplished by the jet in the NATO maritime drills augurs well for the reputation of the French aircraft, especially as the country looks to bolster exports further.