The first of the 36 Rafale aircraft India is buying from France was handed over to the Indian Air Force in September this year. By 2022, when both squadrons of the French fighter are operational, the Indian Air Force will have four lethal warplanes in its fleet, including the Sukhoi Su-30MKI Flanker, Mirage-2000 and MiG-29 Fulcrum. Plus, with the indigenous Tejas being inducted at the rate of 8-12 aircraft per year, the IAF is on course to becoming a well-balanced fighting force.
Since the IAF has around 250 Su-30s (for an eventual Flanker fleet of well over 300 Sukhois), 90 Fulcrums and around 45 Mirages, the 36 Rafales will not be the dominant in numbers (although that could change with possible follow-on orders). However, where it lacks quantity, the aircraft will compensate by bringing a whole suite of advanced 4.5 generation technologies that have never before been seen in the region. The brand new Rafale will take India’s air combat capability to an entirely different level.
It needs to be emphasised that no single weapons platform can be a game changer. Countries that integrate weapons and systems and operate them in sync with each other are usually the countries that win wars. The Rafale by itself won’t be a war winner but it will become a force multiplier – that is, when deployed with the workhorse Sukhoi, MiGs, Mirages and the Tejas, all five aircraft become more lethal by feeding off of each other’s synergies.