In 2007, the long pending request of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the procurement of 126 Multi-role Combat Aircraft(MMRCA) was sanctioned by the then Central Government of India led by Dr. Manmohan Singh. This led to the rolling of the MRCA tender, in which many aircraft competed to win the lucrative tender. This competition lasted five years until Dassault Aviation won the contract being the lowest bidder with its 4.5 Generation MRCA, Rafale.
After a lot of debate, political tensions and arguments over various clauses of the deal, in September, 2018, the Shri Narendra Modi led NDA government signed a deal for 36 Rafale aircraft in a government to government transaction costing Euro 7.87 billion. The reduced number of aircraft and high price is because the aircraft will be sold in fly away condition and not built by HAL(Hindustan Aeronautics Limited). This was done to save time and gain Dassault’s assurance on the aircraft’s performance. Other factors include inflation, aircraft munitions and India specific enhancements made to the aircraft.
The two squadrons ordered of 18 aircraft each, 30 single seater Rafale — C and 6 twin seater Rafale — B, will be stationed at the Ambala air base in Haryana and Hasimara Airbase in West bengal. This provides the IAF great strategic mileage at the Chinese and Pakistani fronts. The aircraft procured have been specifically designed for India with integration of technology from Israel along with the various systems developed by Thales, MBDA and Safran.
What is the Rafale?
The Dassault Rafale is a Medium — Multirole Combat aircraft that Dassault Aviation claims can perform the following missions: Air-Superiority, Anti-Access, Reconnaissance, Close air support, Dynamic targeting, Anti-ship attacks, Air-to-ground strikes, buddy-buddy refueling and nuclear deterrence.
The air-frame of the Rafale is made of mostly composite materials, which helps to increase the maximum takeoff weight by 40%. The Rafale comes with a Delta wing with close coupled Canards(the small wings you see alongside the cockpit), that provide a wide range of center of gravity for different missions. This configuration also helps maintain agility and control at steep angles of attack. The aircraft comes with Dassault’s tried and tested, and extremely efficient “Fly-By-Wire” Flight Control System(FCS). It has been proven to provide ease in flight in all conditions. The auto flight terrain following mode allows it to enter enemy territory unnoticed, accompanied with a low radar cross section. The Canards increase the cross-section of the rafale and hence it does not have full stealth capabilities and is a 4.5 generation aircraft.
The Rafale comes with M88–4E engines developed by Safran Aircraft Engines. They provide a high thrust to weight ratio, easy maintenance, high dispatch reliability(performance efficiency) and low operating costs.
A 360° Sight of Destruction
The jet is mounted with RBE2/AESA radar. This allows the aircraft to scan for multiple threats at the same time in all weather conditions. Since the radar uses multiple frequencies it can operate in radio jammed environments. Other features include 3D mapping for terrain following and 2D maps for tactical purposes.
Accompanying the AESA, is an Internal Electronic Warfare Suite, SPECTRA. It provides multiple threat warning systems against radar, missiles and lasers. Long range detection helps in preparing defensive measures that include radar jamming, radar decoy and evasive maneuvers. It comes with an extensive threat library that can be easily updated. It provides angular localisation of targets, giving precision air-to-ground strikes.
It’s Net Centric capability provides for real time communication, with other jets, ground control and allies, of images and videos using a very secure data link. The Talios pod is a Target and laser designation pod that provides day and night surveillance with metric precision. It can also be used to launch most laser guided missiles. But the Rafale made for India uses the Isreali Litening pod for sensor commonality on all platforms. The Reconnaissance pod, AREOS, provides real time data link for transmission of target area in all scenarios. All the electronic sensors are developed by Thales and have been extremely useful in conflicts in Libya, Mali, Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria, where the Rafale was deployed.
Another interesting Unit that increases the Rafale’s capability is the Modular Data Processing Unit(MDPU). It performs what is called a ‘Multisensor Data Fusion’. This takes inputs from all the sensors on the aircraft and merges it to provide more accurate information. This also overcomes the range and accuracy limitations of the individual sensors. Hence, the data processing is left to the MDPU(which possesses computing power much greater than most flight computers) and the pilot can make strategic decisions in a shorter response time.
That’s all good, but what’s happening in India?
After describing the various technicalities of the Rafale, we need to see how they affect the Indian military might in the Indian subcontinent. Before the Rafale, the most advanced aircraft with the IAF were the Mirage 2000, Sukhoi Su — 30 MKI and Jaguars. Together they form India’s Air Nuclear Strike Force. But the Jaguars and Mirages are now an ageing fleet. Most MRCA that India possesses are categorised as third and fourth generation aircraft. The HAL developed LCA, Tejas is equipped with the latest technologies but is too small to achieve complete air dominance. On the other hand, China claims it has a fifth generation aircraft, the Chengdu J-20, and Pakistan has a fleet of American F-16s, that, according to sources, would require two Sukhoi Su-30MKI to combat because of the advanced radar and missile technology of F-16s.
With the addition of Rafale, IAF gains major advantages. The 4.5 Generation aircraft, with the latest sensors, weapons and stealth technology will be a major factor to establish air superiority in case of conflicts. It is predicted Pakistan would need to deploy two F-16s to combat a Rafale. In comparison with the Chinese Chengdu J-20, recently the J-20 has been demoted to a fourth generation aircraft, given its canards and lack of supercruise capability. This is proven to some extent when the Indian Sukhoi Su-30MKIs were able to detect the movement of J-20 aircraft over the Tibet region, while on sorties. Meanwhile, the Rafale equipped with the METEOR missile can take out targets beyond visual range. The Indian Rafale will have 13 Indian specific enhancements most notable of which are Helmet mounted sights, cold start from high altitudes like Leh and radar jamming. Also as per the deal, 75% of the aircraft will be combat ready at all times which is a great improvement compared to 55% of the Sukhoi-Su-30MKI.
Big Things come in Small sizes
Now what makes a fighter jet, a “fighter” are the weapons. The Rafale can carry payloads worth 9.5 tonnes, that is almost as much as the empty weight of the aircraft ! (10 tonnes) It comes with a variety of missiles for all possible scenarios, developed by MBDA. First is the METEOR missile, a Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), that has a range of 150Km and a zero escape kill range of 120Km. It is powered by a ram-jet engine which gives it its long range. This will enable the IAF to intercept enemy aircraft even before they cross the border. Then is the MICA missile, another BVRAAM, that can be used in combat, interception and self defence. It is equipped with heat seeking and radar homing features. The air-to-ground missile, SCALP, has an extremely long range of 600Km for deep penetration and area-denial scenarios. This gives an immense capability to destroy hostile launch pads deep in enemy territory. Seeing the tense situations with China, India has ordered the HAMMER air-to-ground precision guided weapon system on an emergency basis. Earlier it was planned to use the Isreali Spice 2000 but since it would require separate integration and testing, the HAMMER was chosen instead, which is pre-configured. Once the BrahMos NG missiles are developed by the Indo-Russian joint venture, they will be integrated to be deployed from the Rafale, making it a force to be reckoned with.
After 23 years, New Wheels of the IAF land
On 29th July, 5 Rafale jets were delivered to India where they were officially inducted into Squadron №17 “Golden Arrows”. The rising tensions between India and China have caused speculations of the Rafales’ first mission in the Ladakh region. If it so happens, then it will become a platform to display the new might India has acquired and hopefully put any questions about the Rafale at rest.
Author: Rachit Gupta
Poster Credits — Ratnam Patel
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- India Receives First of 36 Dassault Rafale Fighter Jets, The Defense post, Oct 8, 2019(Image 2)
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