At a time when the Indian Air Force (IAF) was contemplating on modernising its somewhat, deserted aerial squadrons of modern fighters jets amid increasing threats from Iron “Brothers” Pakistan and China, it appeared that French President Emmanuel Macron held the key to fulfilling that potential.
With the billion-dollar deal to acquire potential new fighters under IAF’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract looming in the air, there was no shortage of bidders with the US F-16s along with Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, Eurofighter Typhoons, Russia’s MiG-35 and Sweden’s Saab Gripens jets looking to clinch the lucrative deal.
However, it was France’ crown jewel Dassault Aviation’s – Rafale fighter jets that left everyone else biting the dust, as they jolted their way to secure the deal to provide Indian Air Force with a modern fleet of fighter jets to defend their borders from rising regional threats.
Are Indian Rafales Better Than Others?
While the 4.5 generation Rafale jets, deployed by the likes of Egypt, Qatar and France itself, have an impressive combat history in providing air superiority, the ones exported to India are considered an edge above the rest.
According to the Indian Bureau of American financial and business news website, Business Insider, France has made special additions to the standard Rafales as per the requirements laid down by the IAF which helped Dassault Aviation clinch the deal.
“Already countries like France and Egypt have been operating Rafale jets, those that have been supplied to India are more sophisticated and highly customized to meet the specific needs that IAF has today. The pilots can significantly benefit from the helmet-mounted sights and targeting systems and can shoot off the weapons with lightning speed,” said Business Insider.
Unlike Egypt, which sits on a region linking northeast Africa and the Middle East, essentially dealing with a hot desert climate, the battle conditions of India are affected by a varied pattern of weather which is duly affected by the Himalayas and the Thar desert.
With both of India’s volatile borders with China and Pakistan placed in the regions of Ladakh and Kashmir with sub-zero temperatures, France had to add something extra to Indian fighter jets that was not there in any other Rafales – be it Egyptian, Qatari or even the French Air Force.
“Specially tailored for the IAF, the Rafale jets have cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases including Leh, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems” according to an editorial by the Hindustan Times.
Moreover, in a bid to thwart incoming missile attacks Indian Rafales are being set up with X-Guard fiber-optic towed decoy system, which enables the aircraft to counter air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
“Each aircraft carries two X-Guard towed decoys and can be released when the aircraft approaches a saturated area or when a threat is detected. The most suitable countermeasure is transmitted to the X-Guard by the aircraft’s electronic countermeasures system. The fibre-optic connection to the aircraft allows accurate jamming.”
Why Are Indian Rafales Better?
One of the significant reasons behind the superiority of the Indian Rafales over their Qatari or Egyptian counterparts can also be tethered down to the difference in overall requirements.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi felt his homeland’s dire need for a modern fighter to fly alongside Su-30MKI, MiG 29, Mirage-2000 and indigenously built HAL Tejas, budget-strapped Egypt was a surprise buyer for the Rafales.
Traditionally being the United States’ most dependable arms customer, Egyptian Air Force already has a flock of as many as 230 F-16 fighter jets, the highest in the African region.
The purchase of 24 Rafales worth 5.9 billion dollars was more than enough, with there being no need for them to be modified to counter insurgencies on the ground. According to Anthony Cordesman, Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,
“Egypt does not need the Rafale to confront those threats and on the basis of national priorities, there is no military urgency to buy more combat aircraft.”
On the other hand, India has not needed Rafales anymore than they do now especially with military stand-off it is currently embroiled with neighbours China in Eastern Ladakh.
As a matter of fact, the IAF pressed on for the late additions to the new fighter jets which included ‘Hammer’ precision-guided munitions and advanced navigation systems, as confirmed by an Indian defence expert who did not wish to be named.
“Further, meeting the Indian operational requirement’s need, the Air force pressed the last-minute induction of ‘Hammer’ precision-guided munitions developed by Safran electronics and defence.
The Rafale guided by Indian indigenous GPS, i.e., IRNSS (Indian regional navigation satellite system), for which the Rafale has installed with upgraded Sigma 95N. It is a high-performance navigation system designed for most demanding aeronautic applications that require excellent navigation and guidance accuracy.”
Moreover, according to an official source, there are currently 13 India Specific Enhancement (ISE) capabilities sought by the IAF, which will be incorporated in batches after April 2022.
“After the 36th jet is delivered, the first 35 aircraft would be modified in India by Dassault Aviation at the rate of seven aircraft a month so that all 36 aircraft would be of the same capability by September 2022,” said the official.