Afterburners glow and brand new engines almost whistle as the newly acquired Rafale fighter jets takeoff from the Ambala air force base for a “familiarisation sortie” which will soon find them near the site of India's border standoff with China over Laddakh.
Along with the Apache helicopters for target and destroy and Chinook heavy lifts for maintaining a robust supply line and Israeli-made Heron drones, the Indian Air Force is displaying a new and futuristic force structure that can exert power in all weather conditions at day as well as at night. This ability to relentlessly project power and execute damage is the real change in the force structure of the Indian Air Force.
The strategic underpinning of these acquisitions is to allow for rapid deterrence and sustainable intervention and offensive abilities in the face of the adversities of Pakistan and China – if need be taking on both at once. The IAF chief said at his annual press conference in October, 2020, “the Indian Air Force is rapidly changing with new capabilities.”
The Rafale is of course the marquee acquisition that adds a fresh dimension to the force projection capability of the IAF. The key reason why the Rafale alters the balance of power in the air is in its ability to target with standoff precision. In both Chinese and Pakistan scenarios the weapon suites, depending on the mission of the Rafale, will give the IAF the quality edge.
AVM Manmohan Bahadur additional director of the center for airpower studies puts the meaning of the Rafale acquisition in perspective, “Once we acquire the Rafales in sufficient numbers the ability of the IAF for force projection given the range of its weapons its radar and avionics and its multirole ability is greatly enhanced. The aircraft will give the Indian Air Force flexibility and bandwidth for sustained operations across the spectrum of threats that will broaden the strategic options for the planners.”
The meteor missile, Rafale’s primary air to air weapon, has a very long-range rocket and ramjet-powered engine. Its combination with the Rafale weapon system and its tracking and targeting avionics specially enhanced for India add the cutting edge. With an estimated hitting range of 120 kilometers and an 80 kilometer “no escape zone”- several times that of any current MRAAM this is the ace in the pack and rendered both Chinese and Pakistani fighter aircraft open to kill by the IAF. The great thing about this missile is that it does not burn all its fuel at one go it can throttle the engine at launch and re-throttle it later, thus ensuring maximum speed over range and making escape for the target virtually impossible. It is especially important to note that the meteor is effective in operations in dense electronic warfare environments and very difficult to either jam or divert. In skillful hands this is the one weapon that could change the aerial warfare game once the great aircraft take off in formation.
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