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August 25, 2020

The Rafale controversy [Comment]

National

August 25, 2020

The Indians are delirious over getting five Rafale fighters, the media especially singing praises of the aircraft. The gullible Indian public is made to believe that once these aircraft are here, all troubles in the country, with China and Pakistan, will cease. May be economic and communal troubles will also go away.

At present, the Indian Navy’s MiG-29Ks have been deployed to Ladakh while the five Rafales have been stationed at the Ambala Air Base, some three hundred miles from the active battle theatre in Himalayas.

But India has only five Rafale fighters and cannot put them into any aerial battle with her adversaries. One Rafale with infrastructure and weapons has cost India around US$250 million, making it super expensive for a third world country. In fact, India is only the fourth buyer of not-so-successful in terms of sale aircraft, which besides the French Air Force has been sold to Qatar and Egypt. It will take years for the Indian Air Force to fully integrate the aircraft and make them battle worthy after developing air combat doctrines, training of personnel and putting up a supply chain.

Describing the arrival of five Rafale fighter jets as a historic day for the Indian Air Force and a proud moment for India, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said they are the world's most powerful machines capable of thwarting any challenge in the sky. As it is, the Indian Air Force has lost qualitative and quantitative edges against her adversaries over the years.

Thirty-six Rafales will not dramatically alter the Indian Air Force capabilities. However, Indian military aviation experts believe Rafale’s addition to India’s fighter fleet would significantly enhance the Air Force’s overall operational capability to counter the Chinese threat, and it would also provide effective deterrence against Pakistan. Rafale, most of all, will be a morale booster for the cash starved Indian Air Force and dismayed public that has seen massive influx of Hindutva policies at all levels of government.

The Indian Air Force has sought from Dassault, the aircraft manufacturer, some India specific changes, the modifications including Israeli helmet-mounted display and sight system, Israeli-created decoy system, changes to the electronically scanned radar, device for jamming low-band radio frequencies, better radar altimeter, expanded navigation aids, etc.

There is no surprise about this but Rafales for the time being will be hanger queens. The IAF is overjoyed at the Rafale capabilities but Pakistan Air Force and Chinese also have beyond visual range missiles and stand-off weapons besides jamming systems.

The Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) recently said Pakistan was capable of tackling any aggression from India, and was not threatened by the country's latest acquisition of Rafale jets. Major General Babar Iftikhar made the statement at a press conference when asked about the threat posed by India's Rafale jets. "The way the journey of the five Rafales from France to India was covered shows the level of their insecurities... Nonetheless, whether they receive five [Rafales] or 500, we are fine. We are absolutely ready and we have no doubt on our capability and we have proven this so it's (the jets) not going to make much of a difference," he said.

Today’s aerial combat is not what it used to be in the past. There will be seldom machine to machine dogfights; the combat in the region will be dictated by force multipliers, beyond visual range missiles, high degree of situational awareness and the man behind the machine. The fog of war will separate the myth around Rafale from ground realities.