Rafale-M: How ‘Heavily Armed’ French Marine Jets ‘De-Escalated’ Tensions Between India & Pakistan In 2002

As India prepares to welcome French President Emmanuel Macron for its 75th Republic Day ceremony on January 26, there are strong indications that New Delhi and Paris are nearing the conclusion of agreements related to India’s acquisition of 26 Rafale Marine combat aircraft from France. 

In recent months, the discussions surrounding this agreement, which includes an intergovernmental pact for India to buy 22 single-seat and four dual-seat marine combat aircraft from France’s Dassault Aviation, have picked up pace. 

The acquisition of Rafale M fighter jets holds strategic significance for the Indian Navy, primarily intended for deployment on the INS Vikrant, the nation’s first indigenous aircraft carrier commissioned on September 2, 2022. 

Furthermore, there is a possibility that some of these aircraft will find deployment on the INS Vikramaditya, the Indian Navy’s other carrier.

In December 2022, reports surfaced regarding the French government’s response to India’s tender for purchasing 26 Rafale Marine fighter jets for the Indian Navy. 

According to senior defense sources cited by India Today, French authorities responsible for arms sales to foreign nations have submitted their response, initiating a comprehensive examination of the bid by Indian government officials.

This development is seen as a crucial advancement in fortifying the Indian Navy’s fighter aircraft fleet, offering a complementary force alongside the existing Russian-origin MiG-29K fighters. 

India’s procurement of the Rafale Marine jets, produced by Dassault Aviation, represents the country’s second significant acquisition of fighter jets from the French aerospace industry in recent years. 

With the eagerly awaited visit of French President Macron to New Delhi and his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expectations are high for potential advancements on another noteworthy deal. 

This pertains to the proposed agreement between India’s Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited and France’s Naval Group for the construction of three additional submarines. 

This deal would follow the construction of six Kalvari-class submarines, an export derivative of France’s Scorpène-class, under New Delhi’s ‘Project 75’ acquisition program for the Indian Navy.

Rafale-Marines In Action  

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale M is a versatile single-seat aircraft designed for a range 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, reconnaissance, and pilot training sorties.

Dassault Aviation categorizes the Rafale as an “omnirole aircraft” capable of performing multiple tasks simultaneously, including firing air-to-air missiles during low-altitude penetration phases. The design makes it relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats.

The Rafale M has a wingspan of 10.90 meters, a length of 15.30 meters, and a height of 5.30 meters. Classified in the 10-tonne class, it has a maximum take-off weight of 24.5 tons and can carry an external load of 9.5 tons. 

Rafale Marine: Credits: Marine Nationale

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 kmph).

Earlier in 2002, during India-Pakistan military tensions, French Rafale Marines, along with US Navy jets, created a buffer between the two nations to de-escalate the situation. The Rafale M undertook combat air patrol from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

With their mighty presence, the Rafale Marine fighters deterred Indian and Pakistani warplanes from using the sea route to attack each other.

Armed with lethal air-to-air missiles, the Rafales worked closely with F14s and F18s of the US Navy to bring peace and exert dominance in the region.

Meanwhile, in 2010, the French Defence Ministry said that its Rafale M aircraft had crashed into the sea. The naval warplane was operating from Charles de Gaulle and was deployed in the Arabian Sea to support operations in Afghanistan.

The Rafale-M plunged into waters where the aircraft carrier was stationed, around 100 kilometers off the coast of Pakistan in the Arabian Sea. The pilot was unharmed and was rescued by a helicopter.